Teaching Quality or Teacher Quality – Framing the debate around education.

Just think about the difference between these two terms:

Teaching Quality

Teacher Quality.

The simple change, from a verb to a noun,  brings with it a massive shift in the way we think about the education system and the work of teachers.

Teaching Quality directs our attention to what teachers DO.  A few years ago in  NSW, we adopted the Quality Teaching Framework, a model of pedagogy which we used to guide our professional development. It included evaluation tools that allowed us to reflect on our practice, identify areas that we were doing and identify those areas in which we could become more effective. It was a tool for learning, that enabled all teachers to develop their practice and improve their teaching quality. The idea of Teaching Quality brings with it the notion that teaching can be learned and can be improved.  It also brings with it the idea of investing in and building a culture of ongoing professional learning.

Teacher Quality directs our attention to who teachers ARE. There is an ongoing debate around this idea in Australia at the moment. Should only our highest achieving high school graduates be allowed to study teaching, or should everyone be given access to a teacher education course?  Does success at school predetermine Teacher Quality?  Read this article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald for a taste of the debate. The term Teacher Quality  focuses us on the TYPE of people who become teachers rather than on investing in their ongoing professional growth.

I find the use of the term Teacher Quality extremely problematic when used to frame debate around education.  Too frequently it is used in a  way that, intentionally or not, denigrates the profession. As I wrote in my post The Problem with the Teacher Quality Debate,  often it puts the entire responsibility for an education system on to the shoulders of its individual teachers and other issues, such as equity, school management, funding, provision of access to professional learning and provision of adequate time to prepare lessons can be conveniently ignored.

A cynic might even believe that conservative governments and commentators,  who are eager to reduce rather than increase public spending,  deliberately use this language to avoid responsibility for dealing with the difficult and complex nature of an education system. The  solution is appealingly easy: recruit a better, higher quality type of person into teaching,  so that we have Quality Teachers and the education system will become one of the world’s best.  When the system doesn’t work, instead of dealing with complexity, we can just blame those other teachers, the one’s who aren’t of quality.

Why teach?

When I decided to become a teacher back in 1989 these were my reasons:

  • I wanted to spend my time making the world a better place, not making myself or others rich.
  • I loved learning. What better way to share that joy than to become a teacher
  • I loved to create, innovate and problem solve. Teaching would allow me to do this all day, every day.
  • I enjoy variety and I was pretty sure primary school teaching would allow this.

Looking back on my reasons, I have to say that every one of them is as true today as they were then. I love teaching because I know I am making a positive difference in the lives of students every day.  20 years on, I continue to find it challenging, creative and varied. I could count on one hand the times I’ve felt bored or haven’t wanted to go to work. It’s hard work. There are long hours, high expectations and a lot of stress. But there is also so much fun and laughter each day.

I love my work because I know it matters. At the end of each day I come home with the knowledge that I’ve done something good, that I’ve helped another person and set students on the path to a better future. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

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Are you a teacher? I’d love to hear why you became a teacher and what keeps you in the profession.