Media Fuels Anti-Teacher Hysteria

"Sex, drugs, violence - and that's just the teachers" was a common headline in a number of newspapers around the country last week and was yet another example of shock journalism with little substance. The impression one gets from these articles is that there are a lot off dodgy teachers around and the descriptions of the very worst cases would generate understandable concern amongst parents.

Further reading of the article reveals that some exaggeration was involved and the true levels of misconduct are actually quite low. If the 664 complaints since November 2009 are broken into years it makes an average of 330 complaints a year and it was also stated that 260 complaints, "some vexatious", were dismissed. We are now talking about 200 complaints with any basis for each year and of those around 25 teachers had their license to teach removed. The misconduct related to this final group of 25 could very well be serious physical misconduct involving students but could just as well be theft, or behaviour that did not actually occur in the course of their job.

The Teacher's Council is the body charged with investigating and managing teacher conduct and includes teachers from early childhood through to tertiary level, with the number of registered teachers they oversee being around 50,000. If it is only .05% of teachers who are struck off each year and less than 1% have reasonable complaints made against them, it hardly justifies the headline. According to a commentator on National Radio this morning, when compared to other sectors like journalism or the police, the levels of complaints against teachers are minimal.

The Police had 552 complaints against their members last year compared to 330 against teachers and with 8856 sworn officers we are talking about a 1:18 ratio of complaints compared to the number of police and 1:160 for teachers. In no way can the two jobs be compared and being in the frontline of difficult situations, the police are more likely to receive criticism, but it does help to put teacher complaints in perspective and question the motives behind the newspaper article.

The article fueled anti-teacher comments on "rightwing" blogs where the teacher unions were held responsible for protecting dodgy teachers and Cameron Slater called for a dismantling of the current unions due to their monopolizing of the sector. All this manufactured angst supports the Government's plans to further strengthen teacher appraisals, change the operations of the Teacher's Council and introduce some form of performance pay.

Meanwhile, the majority of teachers, the other 99.5%, are attempting to get on with the job of teaching and learning in a politically charged environment with newspaper headlines creating doubt and concern at their ability to do so. The fact that we are in the top five of all OECD countries for the performance of our education system is conveniently forgotten, again.


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