Teachers Deserve a Break, and Not Just at Summer Time

Society might want to consider the increasing responsibilities and expectations that are being imposed on teachers, writes Michelle Green, Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria.

If there’s one myth about teaching that’s sure to send a collective groan through school staff rooms, it’s this one: ‘It must be great being a teacher – all those holidays, all that time off.’

It’s an assumption that builds on a related myth: that teachers have short working days, ending about 3.30 pm when their students depart.

Both myths are based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It’s assumed that teachers stop working when classrooms are empty, at night, at weekends and during term holidays, and that they only resume working when their students return.

The fact is that, during term, good teachers barely stop working. There are lessons to prepare, work to correct and assignments to be planned. The ease of modern communications means they can be contacted at any time, by students and parents.

As well, teachers are usually required to supervise sport, concerts and extra-curricular activities at night and at weekends, and organise and attend parent-teacher interviews.

While they’re doing all this, they need to undertake professional learning to stay abreast of new research and new ways of teaching.

Similar demands can intrude on their holidays – hence the collective groan when they’re told how good they’ve got it.

Good teachers recognise that all of this is part of the job.

But the rest of society might want to consider the increasing responsibilities and expectations that are being imposed on teachers.

These demands are documented in a major report issued by UNESCO this year.

UNESCO’s latest global education monitoring report says: ‘Beyond instruction and facilitating learning, teachers are asked to be counsellors, researchers or data analysts. High-quality instruction alone entails multiple tasks, including preparing, giving and grading lessons, assignments and tests; managing classrooms; developing instructional materials; and providing feedback to students and parents. The complexity and variety of tasks can create conflicting demands on teachers’ time and commitment, complicating efforts to hold them accountable for quality of instruction and learning outcomes.’

Around the time the UNESCO report came out, further evidence of the demands on teachers emerged, closer to home.

This came in a survey, labelled a ‘parents report card’, by researchers at Monash University and the Australian Scholarships Group. It shows how shifting parental expectations can change the way teachers’ roles are perceived – and how the line between what teachers have been traditionally expected to teach, and what students should learn at home, is becoming increasingly blurred.

For example, teaching children how to behave in public has traditionally been the responsibility of parents, but some parents now think otherwise.

The study found that 69 per cent of parents believe schools should do more to teach their child about social skills. Almost half of the 1800 parents surveyed agree they would like their child’s school to do more in teaching them how to behave in public.

Clearly, parents are divided on the role teachers should play in developing their child’s social and life skills. This lack of clarity risks creating confusion in the minds of teachers and principals, and unreasonable expectations among parents.

To my mind, this suggests the need for closer connections between schools, teachers and parents, so there’s a clearer understanding of boundaries and a recognition that there are legitimate limits to what we can expect of teachers.

This entails a degree of mutual trust and respect.

So here’s an end-of-year thought: instead of repeating myths as you farewell your child’s teachers for the year, it might be better to thank them for their work and urge them to enjoy their summer holidays. You might want to tell them they deserve a break.

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