I was recently asked what do I have against “teacher’s standards”? Why was I rubbishing them? The answer is as complex as the question so I will just dive into it.
There are a number of different standards that teachers must “comply” with these days. Simply put, the “standards” tell us what our job is, and how we should do it. The AITSL Australian Professional Standards for Teachers depend on rhetorical nonsense to describe ideas so basic to teaching that they are somewhat meaningless. Let’s look at these standards and how meaningless they are.
Each standard gives a generalized statement, which is then followed by definitions. Each definition is refined to a “level”, the first, and lowest, level being “Graduate”. This is, obviously a beginning teacher, then “Proficient”, then “Highly Accomplished”, and then “Lead”. Each level defines what a teacher should be doing to reach this “standard”. In short, rhetorical nonsense that does more to hamper performance than enhance it.
Well duh!… The worst part is we now have to “show evidence” we can do that.
What constitutes “evidence”? Anecdotal evidence is OK, apparently. An e-portfolio you make up – and I do mean make up here. Logs detailing what you have done with a class, including descriptions of discussions with colleagues. What? I seem to be missing something here. Copies of students work seem to be acceptable as well. How would this be respecting the rights of students? Two things here, what teacher is going to show the worst student’s work? And, what student is going to refuse a teacher request, if it is made, for displaying their work as part of the teacher’s portfolio of evidence? It is a request that has an implicit threat for the student – comply or lose a grade or two. That threat does not have to be real, but in the student’s mind it will be. So taking work without asking is a respectful thing to do? A range of “professional development” strategies and a self assessment process. In short, nothing overly academic, nothing need be really verifiable, no rigour, no evidentary test applied, basically, your word you have done all this. Wow.. this is so open to abuse that it is just not funny. What is more, I know that younger people are now becoming consummate spin-meisters – they have to just to make themselves employable. (I refer here to another blog I wrote.)
The standards range from the silliest, “6. Engage in professional learning.” “Teaching” is the other side of the coin from “Learning”. Our political masters have forgotten that. Teachers are not encouraged to make any meaningful progress to actually improve their qualifications. Recently, we had the Gonski Report identify this as an issue, and recommended institutional funding for it, but the incoming Federal Government scrapped the whole thing. Currently, the professional development we actually do generally has no academic merit, is repetitive of what has been done in previous years. How many times do we need to go over OH&S, child protection, differentiated learning, superficial glances over the Australian Curriculum and so on, while ignoring deeper curriculum development issues?
To the inane, “4. Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments.” In leafy green schools, this is not an issue, but in other schools where students family members are often in Remand, or are awaiting criminal trials, or have substance and alcohol issues, this is a problem. Often, students from such backgrounds come to school every day so they can feel safe, then go home and engage in high risk behaviours. In any kind of school, the development of social media has also rendered this idea inane. How can a teacher make a safe environment when students use their mobile phones to bully other students while in class? Teachers do not always detect abuse, but, in some schools, they often confiscate phones when students use them inappropriately. In other schools, teaches cannot confiscate phones, at any time, for any reasons. I would have to ask here, just how does performing a digital lobotomy enhance the feeling of support, wellbeing and safety in a student anyway? Students should be encouraged to not use their phones in class, but parents or employers should be similarly encouraged to not call children in lesson times. How many times have I confiscated a phone, and then have someone call me? Embarrassing, I know, but the double standard is clear, and student’s know it.
Then we have the out-rightly offensive, “5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning”. This has a double edge to it. First, teachers have a statutory obligation to report on the progress of their students. So to make this a “standard” is suggesting that teachers are lazy and would not bother to report at all if they could get away with it. The reporting process is not onerous, and if properly organized, does not take too long to complete. With appropriate support from the school, an entirely separate issue, reporting can be a simple and easy process. Good teachers finish their reports early, do not allow themselves to get side-tracked, and are considerate in their reports. The real issue though is how can teachers explain what is happening in a classroom, with a student, if the teacher cannot write an honest report?
Every reporting cycle, I have teachers bemoaning the fact that they cannot say that Johnny is inattentive, argumentative, lazy, rude and arrogant. If they said that, the fear is they would expose themselves as poor teachers, or they would be sued for telling the truth, or both. Truth is so subjective here. I know students who are capable but they consistently refuse to make an effort in Maths. This is not laziness, they just do not understand it, they do not make too much effort because they do not understand it. They do not attend enough to consistently learn what they need to know, they have missed far too many lessons in previous years and have too many gaps in their knowledge. The worst of all, since the advent of computers, students are not requiring to use memory skills the same ways as previous generations of students did. The National Curriculum demands we teach things the same way we did before computers, and students are no longer working that way. Susan Greenfield is suggesting that brains are being rewired to work in a digital world. There is a lot of evidence to support this, yet politicians, other decision makers, ignore this evidence, as it does not suit their perceptions.
There are five definitions to this standard, 5.1 Assess student learning, 5.2 Provide feedback to students on their learning, 5.3 Make consistent and comparable judgements, 5.4 Interpret student data and 5.5 Report on student achievement.
Assessment is not a straitjacket, it is a woolen jumper, it stretches and bends with the needs of the learners. Good feedback is invaluable, if the student takes it on-board. Often students treat it as a personal attack, so teachers are being increasingly cautious as to what they are saying. The judgement between the differences of two student’s work in some areas is objective, as in Maths. Someone who answers the entire question, offers their logic, shows their reasoning, and gets a correct answer gets full marks. Someone who does not, who only writes the correct answer, does not get full marks. Why? Simple, did the person who got the right answer copy it from someone else? Calculations of trigonometry are not done in the head, no matter how good the student thinks they are. So why do they not write down the steps the have made? For Humanities, or Social Sciences, this is the one area where a good, easily understood, plain language, rubric is useful. Applied to an assessment, it is a handy tool which helps avoid inconsistencies in assessments. Students achieve in so many different ways. Some students can tell a teacher what they have learned, but can’t write worth peanuts. Others have to write things down, but cannot string two words together to explain their learning. How can any teacher adequately assess that? Easily I suggest. The overriding question has to be, can the student tell me what they have learned? Does it matter the medium that suits them best? I have left student data to last. This is particularly contemptuous when you think about it.
“Use student data” is a catch phrase that is, of itself, empty. What data? The data generated by the obnoxious NAPLAN testing? The data generated by the increasingly outdated PISA testing? The data generated by any one of a dozen or more testing authorities that reveals nothing anyway? If anyone really wanted testing that had some meaning, there would be testing at school levels. Pass the test and the student graduates to the next year level. Don’t pass and don’t graduate. Even if this was done at say, Year 3, Year 5, Year 7, Year 9 and Year 11 then the learning that students do would have meaning. The assessment they undertake would be proof of learning. It does not really need be a standard test, it can be localized to suit the cohort, that is, built by the school. As long as the school can demonstrate their examinations meet the demands of the Australian Curriculum, does it matter who writes the exam?
Essentially, these standards all do one thing, they tell me how to suck eggs. As a reasonably intelligent person… well… OK, really bright but not that smart, (if I was smart I probably wouldn’t be writing this and posting it where any potential employer could read it), I think I learned how to change a tyre with my first car. So it has been with teaching, I learned lots of things as a journeyman, by doing the job, not by meeting some imposed, inane, standards. They are common sense, really, even if someone once said that “common sense, like military intelligence is an oxymoron”.
So why do we have these standards? Any politician, principal, parent will provide you with any number of reasons, but they are all nonsense. What they do is to satisfy someone’s itch. They looked good on someone’s resume. They are used to beat teachers up with as none of them are clearly objective, they all are subjective. That is why these standards suck, they say nothing, they provide nothing helpful.
Remember “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “The Code is not rules, more like guidelines, really.” As education is one of the most important planks in Western society, that is just not good enough.