Bruce Couch gave us his Viewpoint this evening. He said ...
'A couple of weeks ago all teachers – pre-school, primary, secondary – and principals went on a one-day strike for better pay and conditions. And who can blame them?
'When I went to school last century, the basic role of a teacher was to educate me in the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic. Owing to the social stigma of being deemed to be a bad parent, parents made sure their kids attended school. It was the expected thing to do. Also, tightly knit communities kept an eye on all the kids in the neighbourhood and it was harder to wag school.
'Any kids with learning difficulties were educated and cared for at other institutions –they did not go to a “normal” school.
'With the exception of lukewarm milk, schools were not in the business of feeding students – this was the role of the parents.
'Parents supported teachers. If I was disciplined at school, and went home and told my parents, they would say that I probably deserved it. There was also a high probability, that I would receive a second dose of domestic discipline to reinforce the teacher’s stance. If there were problems at home, it was not the teacher’s job to sort them out. Cultural, racial, and sexual sensitivity were yet to be invented.
'What is the different now?
'Time-poor parents are tending to transfer responsibility for teaching social skills and behavioural norms to teachers. There are now super entitled students, supported by super entitled parents, who will have a go at a teacher for disciplining their little darling. Not only is this time consuming, but it also undermines the teacher’s authority in the classroom and makes their job harder.
'Cash-poor families are unable to feed their children which means schools become responsible for providing meals. Another diversion for schools even if it encourages attendance.
'Some parents can’t make sure their children attend school every day – others don’t seem to care if they don’t show. As a result, students fall behind and need extra tuition to help them catch up. Some never catch up, and it is interesting to note that a majority of those in prison, have low levels of reading and writing skills.
'Special needs children are now integrated into state schools, without giving the schools sufficient resources to handle them. The lack of trained counsellors to deal with students who have special needs and/or issues at home, means teachers become counsellors by default. Teachers now need to be more aware of racial, cultural, and even sexual diversity. All these take extra time and require additional skills.
'So what has been done to assist teachers to meet their expanded role? Not a lot!
'In most jobs, additional duties normally are accompanied by increases in pay and resources. Apparently, this is not so in teaching. In fact, relative pay rates for teachers have been drastically eroded over the last 20 years. During this time, median weekly earnings from wages and salaries for all workers rose by around 100%. By comparison, the pay for a secondary school teacher at the top of the basic scale, rose by only 60%.
'As the Government employs the teachers, I thought it would be interesting to compare salary movements over the last 40 years between a member of parliament – a backbencher – and a secondary school teacher on the top pay scale. In 1980, an MP’s salary was $28,000 compared to the top teacher rate of $21,000. Today an MP receives $164,000 (excluding allowances). If teacher salaries had increased by the same percentage, our top teachers should now be receiving $123,000. The reality is that the top of the scale is actually only $90,000 – a difference of $33,000. No wonder teachers are upset. Even an experienced high school principal only gets around $110,000 per year to manage 50 staff and 1,000 pupils. The manager of a similar sized business would be paid at least twice this amount.
'After 3 years training, a qualified teacher receives $24.70 per hour – only $1 more than the minimum wage of $23.70. No wonder the number of people taking up teaching as a career has fallen.
'The lack of new teachers, combined with a high proportion of existing teachers at, or reaching retirement age, means there will be a severe shortage of teachers in the near future. We need to make a teaching career more attractive to counter this.
'My viewpoint is - teachers need to receive significant increases in salaries and resources - way better than the current offer - to make sure that all our grandkids, and their kids, will receive the best education they need and deserve. Otherwise, a poorly educated population will result in a poorly performing country.