[Disclosure – I am currently a teacher and my opinion in no way reflects the opinion of any former or current place of employment. My opinions are purely my own and also do not reflect that of all teachers.]

Teaching as a profession has a marketing problem – a big one. If teaching were a product at Apple there would be redevelopment and marketing campaigns to ‘save’ its image. Only we’re not products, we’re people working in a profession that has a bad name in the eyes of society. An apparent ‘less than’, ‘backup plan’ and an ‘oh well’ profession which cannot seem to shake itself of the negative connotations.

‘Teacher bashing’, public shaming and prejudice towards the profession in everyday conversation rears its ugly head almost every week, even from close friends and family. For reference, I’m a middle school teacher and not an early years/pre-school teacher. They seem to have it worse.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Australian graduate teachers are the 5th highest paid teachers in the world. If you secure a job in the state education system – as we do not have a federal register/body for teachers – we can expect to earn $64,000 AUD and $72,000 AUD if we work in the private sector (independent/religious). We work on average 865 and 797 hours as primary and secondary teachers respectively. 70 per cent of those hours are spent teaching (secondary).

Job stability and security is hard to come by; permanent positions are extremely hard to secure. As a graduate teacher, you will more than likely be offered a term-by-term contract with a three month probation period. After the six months are over the school can either extend your contract or send you on your merry way.

Graduate and 1-2 year experienced teachers can end up in a cycle of securing contracts and then having to move on because the school doesn’t have enough of a budget to employ a full-time teacher. If you find yourself on a contract and it finishes at the end of the school term in December – goodbye holiday pay. In fact the “holiday” we receive at the end of the term is us cashing in our overtime (there’s no such thing as overtime in teacher world). If a teacher is unable to secure any form of a permanent position they will also struggle to apply for a mortgage. No job security.

If we want to work three to four days a week then we could secure a lucrative part-time position or find relief (supply) teaching work in our areas; permitting schools don’t already have a long list of names to call before our name is considered. Most relief teachers will probably end up working a second job until they can secure a contract at a school.

The other problem with graduate teachers is overworking ourselves to increase our chances of securing full-time work. Volunteering for camps, extracurricular (unpaid work) and staying behind at every meeting to appear impressionable can leave us burnt out, exhausted and our self-value can be challenged weekly.

We’re not babysitters

The reason why everyone seems to have an opinion about what we do is probably that everyone has at some point in their life, been in contact with a teacher and participated in a classroom. Unlike doctors, surgeons, lawyers and other professions which operate behind closed doors, we are held up to magnified scrutiny from the public.

In amongst the scrutiny, most of us plan lessons, units, programmes, fill out copious amounts of paperwork and differentiate for the class. If we’re lucky enough to have under the magic number of 24 students in one class, we’re considered lucky. We’re not only teaching your child, but we’re also teaching 23 other children at the same time; who deserve our equal support, care and attention.

In any one lesson, we need to make sure the 24 students are learning what we intend for them to learn. We need to check understanding, question, inquire with them, facilitate discussion, encourage group work, individual work, make them think for themselves and question until they get it right. Oh, and did I mention we also have to manage behaviour? After the day is over we have to mark, assess, check understanding, phone parents, meet with parents, attend staff meetings, faculty meetings, write more paperwork and at the end of it all, go home and try not to think about, “What I could have done differently” today. There are days full of regret, wondering why you let a kid (or parent) get the better of you.

So, what can we do about it?

Teaching at its core (in class, learning with the kids) is a supremely wonderful and rewarding job. I have had many moments of discovery and learning with the students and I am thankful I have had the opportunity this year to teach. However, the education system, school environment and negative attitude towards teachers needs a complete overhaul.

  • In my opinion the first priority is to ensure the minimum entry requirement to a teaching job is a Masters Degree and increase the starting salary to a minimum of $80,000. This would be on par with other professional starting salaries such as lawyers, dentists and doctors. Increase the salary cap to $120,000 for 10 year experienced teachers.
  • Furthermore, the Master’s Degree offered by universities needs a minimum of six months of practical experience, double of what is now expected. Teachers need to spend longer in classrooms. This would enable the student teachers hands-on experience, it would support teachers in classrooms as there would be two adults in the classroom and the student teacher can learn the real-world, day-to-day activities and functions of a running classroom.
  • Scrap NAPLAN; look at Finland, Sweden. Or, implement a national standardised test at the end of Year 10.
  • Schools need to start bridging the gap between home, the school and community. Community learning, parent education, practice based learning, STEM and the Arts needs to be completely reworked. Whilst I cannot yet provide a solution to how this would look, schools cannot continue to exist as they are if we want our next generation of adults to be global achievers, critical thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators and contribute the growing global society.
  • We need to place value on the Arts and give further opportunities to students who are disengaged with school.
  • Educating students in an institution also needs to be re-worked. The current education system was designed for a different age, for the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution (factories). It’s an outdated, 19th century model of education that needs to be revised and reworked for our 21st century learners. Some schools are moving towards a ’21st century model’ of education, but we have a long way to go.

We need to stop “band-aiding” the problem

According to Sir Ken Robinson, the public education system was arranged based on the “intellectual model of the mind” and that “real intelligence” consists of deductive reasoning and “knowledge of the classics” (back in the day). In modern times this would be knowledge of academia such as mathematics and English. Students are assessed, judged, standardised and weighed against how well they perform in each of those subjects and little care is given to the arts – most of the time.

The problem with this model is that students who don’t fit into the constraints of the education system are deemed “non-academic”. A further problem of the model is that, “…many brilliant people think they’re not, because they’re being judged against this particular view of the mind,” a quote from Sir Ken Robinson. A huge focus is put on standardised testing.

We’re also educating them based on the ‘production lines’ of the 19th and 20th centuries. We educate them in batches by age, schools have specialised separate subjects, use bells and separate facilities. “It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture,”.

We need to change from the ground up

In order to change our school and education systems, we need to change from the ‘ground up’. This means that change is not going to come from our politicians (the top down approach). Real change will happen when teachers in classrooms make daily change and stand up for what they believe in. We as teachers need to stop saying “yes” to everything and use our experience, knowledge and understanding of how students learn to change society for the better.

We cannot have a society without teachers and schools. Most of us spend 13 years of our early years at school. For some kids, school is a safe haven, a refuge and home away from home. For others, it is daily scrutiny and utter hell. We as a society have a collective responsibility to educate our children in the right way. We need to stop treating education as a necessary expense and look at the opportunities that could come our way if we invest in our schools. If we as a society could see schools and education as a whole as something we are proud of, not something we are ashamed of, imagine what we could create, innovate and design.

We need strong leadership teams who listen to teachers. We need supportive parents, education of community and home and bring society into the classroom as much as possible. Students need to see their knowledge put into action. Whilst we have the Australian Curriculum limitations, students can still practice their learning outside the classroom and through practice-based learning. We need to support our teachers, invest in our teachers and listen to them. We need educators and universities to educate teachers properly and give them plenty of classroom time before they accept a full-time job.

We need state governments to allocate funding properly, especially when it comes to kids with special needs. We need to work together and instead of complaining, build solutions now – not in fifteen years time. Our kids need us; the future adults of tomorrow need us. We have the opportunity to be better. Let’s make it happen.