Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Let's Start REALLY Respecting Teachers

Anybody even remotely connected to education in BC has heard by now of the BCEdplan, and those of us in the profession have been literally surrounded with talk about it.  There are some great concepts in the plan, some true indicators that those at the top are really starting to comprehend how learning occurs, and how we need to alter our current system to reflect what we know about learning.  But there is one BIG elephant in the room that's going to hinder acceptance of the plan and 'buy in' from the biggest stakeholder group involved (other than students).  I refer of course to teachers, and here's the dilemma.

Exacerbated by the coincidental timing of the release of the Edplan and the current job action by the BCTF, some of the language within the plan itself is, at best, disrespectful of the great work that the vast majority of teachers already do for the students of BC.  For instance, let's consider a couple of passages;

"Professional standards will be high, and we will bring in a new system to regulate the teaching profession."

Anything beyond the most obtuse and perfunctory analysis of that statement would interpret it as being disrespectful, even slightly aggressively so.  Are standards, as measured by student achievement, not already high?  Yes they are.  So why not write something like "Professional standards will remain high...".  Is there any concrete evidence that the teaching profession in BC requires a new system of regulation?  Is there a preponderance of incompetent teachers?

Or how about this statement;

"On Pro D days, parents make alternate arrangements for their children and they need to be assured that these days are used as intended."  The implication?  To me it's that there's a pervasive problem of teachers using Pro D days in unprofessional manners.  No evidence however has been put forth by anyone that this is the case.

Yes, there are cases where teachers have wasted Pro-D days, and yes, there are a (vanishingly) few teachers  that need "regulating", but the government does a huge disservice to the profession when it panders to all the negative stereotypes about teachers and teaching that we see in the media.  And that's exactly what this aspect of the Edplan is doing.

In formulating this plan the ministry has done a very good job incorporating findings from recent research that sheds light on how humans learn and how our system could better facilitate that learning.  That's a good thing.  But other research suggests that one of the surest ways to improve an education system is to attract and retain quality teachers. Therein lies the problem, due (amongst other things) to budget shortfalls, stagnating wages and a general political and cultural disrespect for the profession,  teacher morale in all of North America has suffered a beating over the past two decades.  But countries in which students achieve the best results consistently say that the best way to encourage and motivate teachers, and to attract some of the best and brightest to the profession, is a reasonably simple combination of fair pay and nurturing a culture of respect for the teaching profession within society.  The ministry is currently at a deadlock with teachers over pay, (thanks to a line in the sand drawn by a previous government) and is showing what could best be described as disdain for the profession in the wording of this plan.

Given these factors, the ministry of education can't reasonably expect teachers, as a group, to be enthusiastic about this education plan.  Without the support of teachers, this plan, which has some genuinely promising ideas with which to work, will not fly.  That would be a shame but that, unfortunately, is the reality.