Summit lays bare challenges facing Victorian teachers
From staff shortages to artificial intelligence to supposedly offensive language in children’s books, not to mention the ever-present “bogeyman” that is the always-controversial NAPLAN aptitude test, challenges abound in Victorian schools.
That’s the immediate takeaway from Thursday’s education summit hosted by The Age, comprising a series of insightful presentations and robust panel discussions among politicians; educators; experts from state, independent and Catholic sectors; representatives from universities, TAFEs and the public service; and unions and students.
State Education Minister Natalie Hutchins addresses the summit on Thursday.Credit:Justin McManus
It would be hyperbolic to suggest the system is in crisis. For the vast majority of our teachers and their charges, life goes on just as it should, focusing on learning, co-operation, socialisation, building skills and, at the business end, coping with the trials of years 11 and 12 and the transition to further education, not to mention adulthood.
Yet cracks are certainly showing, with Victorian schools in particular still staggering back to normalcy following the unprecedented disruption of pandemic lockdowns and the experiment in home schooling that teachers, parents and students alike are probably still feverishly hoping to forget.
Three key issues have emerged. First, how to fill the almost 1000 teaching vacancies that have forced a number of Victorian schools to revert to what some describe as skeleton programs: focusing on the core curriculum at the expense of electives that have insufficient staff to teach them. Clearly, strategies to attract more high-calibre young people to the profession – and to re-engage with experienced staff who have stepped away – are critical if we are to maintain the programs we demand.
The second issue is the risk of burnout for teachers induced by long hours of extra-curricular administrative work; the threat of physical violence or other abuse in the classroom itself; and having to deal with difficult parents, which is one of the most unforgivably confronting parts of teaching. Nor are principals immune: a recent survey indicated almost one in two are deemed to be at risk of “serious mental health concern”.
Speaking at the summit, Victorian opposition education spokesman Matthew Bach said it wasn’t surprising that 47 per cent of private school teachers surveyed by Independent Schools Victoria found parent interactions challenging. Worryingly, Heathdale Christian College’s Yvonne Harvey told us that parents are increasingly calling in lawyers to challenge a school’s decision to suspend or expel students.
The third issue centres on ensuring new graduates are equipped with the skills to succeed when they transition from the theory of higher education to the reality of the classroom. Joanne Camozzato, principal of Edgars Creek Secondary College, in Wollert, near Epping, told the summit she believed there was a gulf between teacher training and what was required in day-to-day work. “In a way, the first two years are like another apprenticeship,” she said.
Her comments follow a proposal from an expert panel chaired by Mark Scott, vice-chancellor of Sydney University, for tighter standards for teaching degrees – particularly, fewer lectures on arcane educational philosophy and more teaching of practical skills – to help ensure graduates use the most effective classroom management practices.
We also heard this week of the “auditory burden” of open-plan classrooms; the risks and benefits of AI; how NAPLAN might be responsible for declining quality in student writing; and the Orwellian debate about the content of school libraries and whether they should be purged of books containing offensive words, phrases or ideologies (Victorian Education Minister Natalie Hutchins told the forum, “I hear a lot more about how to engage … kids in reading as opposed to what they are reading”). These are challenging times indeed.
Yet, overwhelmingly, participants in The Age’s summit have been optimistic, passionate and more focused on solutions than problems: particularly how to better assist teachers at the coalface; effectively engage disengaged or distracted students; attract energetic school-leavers to the profession; retain experienced staff; and raise standards while responding to an ever-changing educational landscape. That said, they cannot succeed in a vacuum. More than ever, teachers and all those whose vocation is to help our children thrive deserve our understanding, support and, above all, our gratitude – for theirs is, it must be acknowledged, an often thankless task.
Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article