As a teacher I want more money. A friend of mine is currently studying to become a high school teacher, and is already becoming disheartened. He, like me, wants to do everything he can as an educator to ensure all students are given equitable learning opportunities. He is discovering that many schools do not get enough money to achieve that aim.
His first student-teacher placement came at a well-funded school with manageable class sizes, and students from reasonably well-off, middle-class backgrounds. His second placement is at a poorly funded school, in a city area known for its struggles and poverty. At the second school he is realising he needs to manage students and situations, rather than teach, because the classes are too large and the social/emotional problems are too great to all be addressed. He is quickly having to face a reality of modern-day teaching; less money means a poorer level of education for students.
In a world where politicians and administrators oversimplify and politicise education funding, I want to avoid doing more of the same, but there is a fundamental link between economics and schools. My friend has stumbled into the double whammy of educational dysfunction in his current student-teacher placement; a poor school in a poor community.
If either a school or its community have ample funding or wealth, then educational outcomes can be achieved. If the school and the community are both doing well financially then everyone is winning. But if neither has access to enough money, then kids are going to miss out. This is why properly funded education matters.
Now as a teacher I would love huge amounts of money thrown at education by governments. This is because the primary reason we don’t have the best people turning to education as a career, is that the pay and conditions are not fantastic. I get paid around $25 an hour for my 60-hour working weeks as a teacher. This is following five years of university education, with a Master’s degree being the average expected qualification for a secondary school teacher. In spite of ideals, I know that teacher pay is not truly the best use of education funding, while there are bigger issues that need fixing.
The reality is that more money is needed to employ more people. Teachers are overloaded and they need help. I would happily forego a raise in my pay for the next five years if it meant I knew my students were going to get the help they needed. This help needs to come by having more people at the educational coalface.
Some educational experts have argued that class sizes do not matter. I agree with this, in the context that if I am lecturing in front of a room of 20 students or 50 students, the effects will be generally be similar. Most teachers will tell you, though, that the biggest learning leaps will occur through individual interactions with students. You don’t need to be an education policy maker to realise there will be far fewer of these interactions if a class is larger in size.
Now imagine trying to teach a class of 32 teenagers, some of whom haven’t eaten much, many who see school as a waste of time. They will do anything possible to avoid tackling more stress in the form of complex academic problems.
Imagine there’s a boy in the class whose father got horrendously drunk last night and beat up the boy’s mother. This child shows up to school, and as well as managing the crowd you try to instill in him the virtues of mathematical literacy. This child is just wondering if the next time Dad bashes Mum, his father might go too far. This boy is concerned with survival, not numbers, and can’t handle the ridiculousness of a maths class. He needs the help of a counsellor, but what are the chances of the teacher noticing or knowing that? I would suggest the chances double if the teacher has a class of 16 students instead of 32.
The same experts that argue that class sizes don’t matter make their argument in the frame of near-perfect teaching techniques being used by teachers. I do as much as I can to learn more and improve my teaching practice. However, many of the hours I used to utilise to get better at teaching are now being whittled away by administrative requirements.
Somewhere, a group of educational policymakers have decided that to improve education, a variety of teaching, assessment and curriculum standards are needed to ensure educational quality is maintained and improved. This is a valid pursuit and a needed step in assessing what works and what doesn’t in schools. What doesn’t work is the bulk of the assessment and maintenance of educational standards falling to the educators to complete.
Many hours each week that could be spent preparing better educational experiences for students are now spent as a pseudo-educational auditor. I often wonder how the decision could be made to improve teacher quality by giving teachers a whole lot of work to do that would distract them from working on their teaching. The auditing and assessment of educational processes and outcomes should instead be carried out by people funded to do that specific job.
Because of a lack of funding we have stretched educators wasting time scrambling to tick boxes and show their teaching standards are maintained, when they can’t possibly be due to the amount of time they have to spend assessing teaching practice, rather than teaching itself.
Ignore the rhetoric about teacher quality, class sizes or efficiencies. Education needs more funding. New teachers shouldn’t have to be disheartened on their way into education due to a lack of resources. It needs more funding so that teachers can focus on teaching. It needs more funding so that community disadvantage can be countered by more individualised attention, for learning and growth. I would love to get paid more to teach, but I know my students need the money more than I do, and I know we need to spend more on their education.