Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Endangered Species

The following two articles were published in today's Courier Mail.

The first one is a piece about the resignation rates amongst teachers by
James O'Loan -

Teachers quit jobs - Resignations on increase

A Tsunami of Queensland teacher resignations is gathering mass as an ageing, arguably underpaid workforce continues to leave our classrooms. From 2006 to last year, resignations jumped 22 per cent and 19 per cent at primary and secondary public schools. The latest Education Queensland figures reveal a retention rate of 94.7 per cent in 2007, the lowest in at least three years. The system took 689 high school and 579 primary school teacher resig­nations from a workforce of 32,000. Queensland Teachers Union pres­ident Steve Ryan expected the flood­gates to remain open for masses of age-induced retirements and younger staff quitting within 10 years as their pay rises stopped. "But, the financial crisis will slow it down a bit I would say," Mr Ryan said. "They don't want to get into retirement mode because they're at the mercy of the markets again." Teachers constitute the third-oldest workforce in Australia. Only marine workers and timber workers are, on average, older. According to the Queensland College of Teachers, 3 per cent of registered teachers are 24 or less, while 37 per cent are 50 or more. Each year about 1000 to 1500 more teachers are registered than are volun­tarily deregistered and about 75 per cent are women. QUT PhD student Mark Keogh has for two years studied the reasons why Queensland's public high school teachers over 45 resign. "Most said it was because of issues within the school itself," he said. The researcher claimed a handful of "office psycho" principals across the state were also responsible for forcing good teachers out the door. "There are a lot of good (principals) but there are some really bad ones ... it breaks (a teacher's) heart," he said. He said bully principals often direct teachers to exclusively take Year 8, 9 or 10 classes — the most stressful. "There are ways to do it (discrimi­nate). Teachers aren't going to com­plain because principals have the right to find out who complained." Representatives from Catholic and independent schools agreed their sec­tors were also facing the prospect of mass retirements from an ageing teaching workforce.

The second by Tanya Chilcott deals with litigation -

Scissors to blame More school lawsuits

Students should not be allowed to take scissors into art classes, according to one parent who is suing the State Govern­ment for $210,000. The mother is suing on behalf of her son who was allegedly cut by scissors inside a pencil case thrown at him by another student in an art class. The incident is the latest in a string of school-based lawsuits filed against the state of Queensland. In the case, filed this week, a 14-year-old boy was allegedly injured on April 26 last year during an art class at Tullawong State High School, Caboolture. Another student was alleg­edly behaving violently and punched a second student in the head before throwing the pencil case at the 14-year-old boy, who had asked the alleged assailant to say sorry to the pupil he had hit. A claim filed by Shine Law­yers in the District Court of Queensland alleges a nerve was severed in the boy's left arm, as well as scarring. It claims the art teacher should have intervened and removed the allegedly violent student from the classroom. It also claims the state of Queensland "failed to implement a system by which students were prevented from bringing sharp objects into the classroom". The State Government is accused of breaching its duty by failing to implement a proper system for supervision and discipline. It is also accused of failing to implement a proper disciplinary behaviour and management program for the alleged attacker, who it is claimed had a history of violence at the school. An Education Queensland spokesman said he was unable to comment as the case was before the courts. Nearly 100 lawsuits were filed for injuries suffered by students in the last financial year.

Neither story is really news. Anyone working in schools, as I do, is only too aware of the situations described. The issues are wide-ranging, from behaviour management, to support for teachers, and parental expectations.

Probably the greatest degree of change I have observed since I started teaching in a bush school in 1968, relates to these issues of the mismatch between teacher capacity and the ever more demanding expectations of the community, harnessed for profit by the plaintiff lawyers.

The media also has a responsibility, because they generally sensationalise the negative aspects, and ignore anything positive. As a school principal, I remember feeling deep frustration at the local media's unwillingness to publish any positive stories - and there were plenty to publish. The politicisation of education also has a negative effect, as Principals, in particular, are aware that any decision made can land the school on the front page of the newspaper on a slow news day.

Perhaps one of the issues that hasn't been canvassed is that of the hobbling of learning communities (which is what schools are or should be) by this morass of issues. Anything that sidetracks the energy of teachers and principals away from learning and teaching imposes a cost on kids and their parents.

In the short term, we need to get behind our teachers and principals in much the same way as we support our military, irrespective of whether or not we support their political masters.

Both soldiering and teaching are noble and indispensable professions. Let's stop bashing them.

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