Our teachers deserve better than this


When it comes to classroom sizes, the numbers are only part of the equation.

Regardless of student-teacher ratios, educators are being forced to deal with unacceptable expectations, leading to stress, burnout and many quitting the profession.

Teaching 25 years ago was a vastly different beast.

Today, educators tell me that up 30 per cent of students in any one class have social, behavioural or learning difficulties.

That's an untenable ratio even for experienced educators who are also battling an unwieldy curriculum that, despite government promises, has not been sufficiently streamlined.

Demands on teachers have reached unacceptable levels. Picture: istock
Demands on teachers have reached unacceptable levels. Picture: istock

Too many children are turning up shamefully ill-prepared to learn because parents are packing them off without breakfast and with too little sleep.

Lunch is a hit-and-miss affair, with tuckshop money a pacifier for lack of time or interest.

Others are simply lacking good old-fashioned discipline.

It has become common for parents to expect schools to "fix" their kids instead of weighing in on their learning journey and collaborating with schools to achieve positive outcomes.

I'm all for inclusiveness - trying to integrate more complex students into the mainstream - but not when those fronting the class are poorly equipped to cope or unfairly left without support.

While teacher training appears to be improving in some areas, it still fails to adequately address how best to manage unruly or disengaged children.

This leaves educators, particularly the young, scrambling to keep their heads above water.

Everyone suffers - the teachers, the "problem" students and the rest of the class whose learning is disrupted.

Tania Leach, who lectures at the University of Southern Queensland School of Education, says teacher numbers are usually determined by the size of the student cohort.

It is common for parents to expect teachers to “fix” their kids. Picture: istock
It is common for parents to expect teachers to “fix” their kids. Picture: istock

That makes sense, but who is drilling down into the quality of that teaching and, concurrently, the make-up of that cohort?

"We have a large number of students in our schools with social or emotional needs, much more than we would have seen in the '90s, and those sort of things are not taken into consideration with the current staffing model," Ms Leach says.

Some schools spend money on teacher aids to help out with students with higher needs, but what about those that can't or won't?

Ms Leach says it would be prudent to "review some of our models for how resources are allocated into schools".

I agree. It shouldn't only be private schools which are able to offer specialist support staff such as counsellors, sports co-ordinators, career advisers and classroom aids.

Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson says research shows that "the teacher at the front of the class and their expert practice have a far greater impact on student learning than the size of class a child is sitting in".

Mr Robertson is spot on.

Studies also show - as I've written previously - that parental involvement is the single greatest predictor of academic outcomes and whether or not children achieve their personal best.

Parents need to step up, but at the same time, teachers must receive the resources they require to do their best work.

Only then will all children get the opportunity of a decent education and be able to take advantage of what that brings in the real world.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor at The Courier-Mail


Kylie Lang
Kylie Lang

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