EDUCANZ, Professionalism and Politics


When I first started teaching I spent a number of happy years in rural communities. In the early eighties all teachers were expected to teach in a 'country' school to enable them to get promotion. Country service was seen as an important part of our professional experience as we would have to teach a range of ages and be able to build positive relationships in the wider community. Primary Teachers were never paid particularly well in those days but I always found that the job was given considerable status and clergy, doctors and teachers were respected as the educated professionals in any community. Only a small proportion of the population had tertiary qualifications then and around 50% left school at 15-16 years of age.

When I started teaching, most teachers had a three year teaching diploma and no degree and now there are much greater academic expectations. Teachers colleges have merged with universities and most teachers now have degrees and many principals have a Masters. The journey to become a fully registered teacher generally involves three to four years of academic study to obtain a degree then at least two years as a pre-registered teacher working under an advice and guidance programme with an experienced mentor before becoming fully registered. It takes at least six years of teaching before a teacher can be considered an 'experienced teacher'. For teachers to maintain full registration they must have regular professional appraisals based on documented professional criteria, this also requires a commitment to the teachers code of ethics and evidence of ongoing professional development.

My wife is a GP and when I compared her responsibilities and workload to mine, when I was a deputy principal, I was aware that the hours of work and extent of responsibilities were similar. In Finland the status of teachers is regarded as greater than a GP. The teaching profession in Finland have an excellent working relationship with the Government and any educational changes are developed and implemented collaboratively.

The status of teachers in New Zealand has dropped considerably since I started teaching despite the fact that qualifications and performance expectations are greater. Teachers work much longer hours now and the demands of planning and assessment mean that most full-time teachers work around 50 hours a week (when I was a DP 60-70 hours was not unusual). I would spend at least one day of most weekends at school and after leaving school between 5 and 6 pm I would often still work for a couple of hours in the evening. As an experienced teacher I often had children with high needs in my class and it was not unusual to have a couple with ORRS funding. This meant many after school meetings with specialist support and parents to develop and report on IEPs. Having children with high behaviour and learning needs in a class can increase a teacher's work load considerably.

The New Zealand Teacher's Council is the crown entity that is currently the professional and regulatory body for all teachers from early childhood through to most other educational institutions. The NZTC has done some excellent work in developing professional mentoring programmes, developing the Registered Teacher Criteria and maintaining professional standards. It has done this with a relatively limited budget and unlike the Medical Council, which operates independently from the Government, the NZTC has 11 people on the Governing Council, but only 4 are independently elected by the profession, the rest are Ministerial appointees.

Parents and children should be served by professionals who are motivated and driven by the ethics and ideals of the profession and a duty of care that is not corrupted by political ideology. For doctors, the sanctity of their relationship with their patients is paramount and without high levels of confidentiality and trust they would often struggle to treat their patients when a full disclosure of their life-style and medical history is necessary. Teaching and learning should be about meeting the needs of each child based on the professional knowledge of the teacher and parents need the reassurance that their child's interests come before politically driven expectations. To truly operate as a profession teachers need to have a teachers council that is independent of both the Government and unions.

I find it appalling that we have a Government that is deliberately and dishonestly undermining the teaching profession by suggesting that there is a crisis in teacher quality and discipline and that political measures are needed to solve it. The idea of a teacher using their position to abuse children is every bit as abhorrent for teachers as it is for the general public and yet there is the encouraged perception that the profession deliberately protects such people and that there is a widespread problem of offending teachers. The facts tell a different story.

There are more than 103,000 registered teachers in New Zealand and in the last financial year 59 were brought in front of the disciplinary tribunal and the majority were removed from the Teachers Register and barred from teaching. This means that probably less than .05 of teachers have behaved badly enough for the most serious consequences and not all of those would be sexual in nature. When you compare teaching with other jobs, then teaching has fewer complaints than most.

It seems overly heavy handed to use misconduct as the driving reason to change the current Teachers Council. If that was the case then some adjustments to current practice and the existing body is all that would be necessary. Instead we have a whole new entity that will have all those on the Governing Council being appointed by the Minister of Education.

The NZTC exists for regulating teachers and maintaining professional standards but the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand will also be giving status to unqualified teachers. Where jobs are difficult fill unqualified people with limited authority to teach (LATs) are currently allowed to fill the positions until a qualified person is found. Under EDUCANZ  LATs will be recognized as teachers and the expectation that they are only temporarily filling a role will be removed. With Charter Schools and Early Childhood Education it is no longer an expectation that all teachers need to be registered and qualified.

We now have a Ministry of Education that is under the beck and call of the Minister, and where political ideology determines policy, and shortly we will have a new Teachers Council that will be governed only by political appointees. Already the Chair of the Transition Board, John Morris, has produced a paper promoting that teachers should be paid according to the performance of their children (National Standards) that reflects the ideology of the Government and is not supported by the wider profession.

Under a National led Government, teachers will lose any professional independence and become classroom technicians that have to support politically prescribed programmes and data collection. Children will not have teachers who exist to meet their individual needs but be forced meet whatever targets the Minister feels necessary to set for them. Any teacher accused of misconduct is likely to be named and shamed before guilt is proven, which will possibly see many of the remaining males in the primary sector forced out of the job through the stress of false accusations (I know few male teachers who have not had a malicious complaint about them at some stage in their career).

Anyone want a career in teaching?

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