An interesting letter in today’s SMH responds to our study.
A STUDY has shown that the literacy and numeracy skills of Australian children are no better than they were 40 years ago (“Grades worse than in 1960s”, February 11). One of its authors, Andrew Leigh, suggested on ABC radio that the quality of teaching was to blame. Angelo Gavrielatos of the Australian Education Union disagreed, arguing that teachers “strive to achieve the highest possible standards” when they walk into a classroom. Well, that’s not the point, is it? Of course they do.
The problem arises when teachers are ill-equipped to nurture excellence in others because they cannot provide excellence themselves. You can’t teach what you don’t know.
I have recently left the profession after teaching German, English, Latin and history in Melbourne and Sydney for 24 years. I taught in the private system, my children attended state schools. The problem is the same everywhere, and it is getting worse.
My degree is from a German university, and from the beginning I was astonished by the limited training given to Australian teachers. English teachers who can’t spell and who have no idea about the structure of the language they teach, and history teachers without any foreign language skills, are increasingly the norm rather than the exception. I leave comments about the dangers of poorly trained science teachers who conduct laboratory experiments to others. Every school is careful not to talk about the near misses.
The root of the problem is pay. Pay is closely linked to social standing, and we do not value teachers.
Teaching is, according to people’s perception, what you do if you don’t make it anywhere else. Consequently bright people with class, ability and options look elsewhere for a career.
And so our schools are increasingly populated by teachers who are not very bright, well-educated or even well-mannered.
Foul language, oafish behaviour and professional ignorance fill the staff rooms and classrooms of even our most expensive private schools.
What can such people teach our young generation? The answer is disquieting.
How do we fix it? Demand a higher level of professional competence from teachers. Pay them a lot better. Social standing will follow, and then better candidates will choose the profession. It will take time, it will take money, it will take political courage, but our children are worth it.
Karin Wiese Lane Cove