Under-resourced, Under-supported and Under Stress
By Paul G Day
I have been a teacher now for almost fifteen years. In that time I have worked in seven different public schools, with my longest tenure at a local High School for six years. I now work as a Temporary Relief Teacher.
In the time I have been teaching, I have witnessed a regime which values profile over substance, public perception over the value of legitimate education and a basic lack of understanding as to how children should be best instructed in the rudiments of life, including discipline, self worth, pride and honesty.
I can tell you that right now in Australia (and elsewhere in the Western world), the curriculum is being stripped of actual substance, students who should be passing are failing miserably, talented students are not given the chance to show their true worth and huge resources are being poured into supporting the bad behavior of a small minority of students who—through no fault of their own—have hijacked the system for little to no positive returns.
There are five root causes to this cancer in our public education.
- Department decisions or lack of decisions on policies
- Leadership bent on blaming teachers
- Very poor behavior of students and their parents
- Lack of adequate school resources
- Teaching staff afraid to do the right thing for the sake of their students
The Department of Education has failed in its obligation to provide a consistent, safe, responsible education for all students. Their policies discriminate against students who want to succeed and the teachers who support them. Their policies on bullying of both students and staff are not worth the paper they are written on and any teacher who genuinely cares is marginalized, made to feel worthless, undermined and ultimately forced out of the system they care deeply about.
Leadership in most instances is only concerned with building up a resume for future employment, being careful not to be seen by the department from wavering from the ridiculous, worthless policies they are forced to enact to keep teachers in line, bad parents onside, all whilst denying the children a proper right to an effective education.
Poor behavior is rife, with in some instances students becoming violent when they do not get their own way, not helped by a tendency to give them far too much scope for bad behavior. This is exasperated by a generation of parents who leave it to schools to do the discipline, whilst they complain, grumble, abuse staff and generally cause serious problems when they feel their little angels are being mistreated. Leadership of schools and the department they report to are both guilty of providing an atmosphere where parents and not the schools decide on what’s best for a child’s education. In my view this should be the other way round, as in my experience, many parents have no clue either what’s best for their children, or the impact the bad behavior of such children is having on the learning environment.
Meanwhile, good parents who do have the best interest of their children at heart, are becoming increasingly frustrated at the injustices inside the classroom and the fact that their child is not receiving the educational support or personal care they deserve.
Over the years, school resources have become a poor cousin to school building projects and programs to support challenging students, most of which fail miserably to achieve any positive results. Computers are often inadequate or not working, mainly due to abuse from a small minority of students and this also has a significant impact on the learning of others. But rather than deny such students from using technology they care little about, or demand their parents pay for damage, nothing is done and the students in question continue their disruptive, destructive behavior to the detriment of the whole school. I have taught in schools where damage goes unrepaired, up to half the computers are damaged, with keys missing, screens not working and computers not repaired or maintained.
In the middle of all this chaos sits the dedicated teacher, slow to complain, marginalized, powerless and fearful of their jobs. I have spoken to many teachers who have simply given up. They are happy if they can get through each day without a major incident. When a child misbehaves, they try everything in their power to not use the system in place because when they do, they are questioned and made to feel like they are useless.
I had one student recently yell at a girl, telling her “I’m going to F**king kill you,” because he thought she had dobbed on him for something he had done in the classroom. She was shaking with fear, in tears, desperate for support. I sent the boy to the front office, but he was marched right back and I was given no choice but to allow him back in my classroom. I told the leader that I was not happy about this at all, but it was clear by what she said and how she said it that I had no choice and they weren’t sending him home (which by the way is school policy for such behavior).
This is one of hundreds of examples I have recorded in my teaching journal over the past decade. Some of the stories I can relate would make your hair stand on end, like the teenage girl who told a female teacher she should “F**k off,” and then said, “Just because you are on your period doesn’t mean you can tell me what to do bitch.” I supported this teacher, who related the story to me in tears. She was angry because the next day the student was returned to the class without so much as being forced to offer an apology and she was told she had to take her.
No. No she doesn’t. Why should she? Why should anyone? To say that this is appalling is a gross understatement. I challenge anyone to spend a week in such a classroom and deal with such behavior on a regular basis.
I have complained before, many times. I have even sought advice from the Teachers Union. But do you know what? You cannot win. Not while leadership, the policies of the schools, the department and even the government are more concerned with a perception that all is good in the teaching world and not the reality. So, by not suspending students because it looks bad for everyone, the problems not only remain, but in time get far worse. It is only a matter of time before something terrible happens in the classroom.
I personally went through a period when things were at their worse, when I thought the worst. I had no support. Every action in and outside the classroom was under scrutiny. I had damage done to my class on numerous occasions, even to my own vehicle and nothing was ever done. This is the regime of education as it stands throughout Australia. This is the system we have. This is what teachers and good students have to face every time they go to school. Bad behavior is rewarded, not dealt with. Excuses are made for the violent and abusive actions of a few students. Teachers are risking their physical and mental well being each and every time they enter a classroom. Sensible students are punished for the one wrong thing they do (because their parents understand why the punishment is there in the first place), whilst unhappy, violent, abusive children are given chance after chance and nobody wants the agony of having to deal with it.
Which brings me to the policies being considered by our government to improve things by increasing the education of the teachers themselves, as if insisting teachers with higher qualifications is somehow a magic bullet to fix the terrible downward slide of outcomes in all public schools. No amount of skill, no amount of preparedness, no amount of qualifications will fix this. That’s because the root causes still remain and until they are addressed and there is major change on how behavior and bullying are dealt with and addressed, nothing will change.
I was bullied constantly by a Principal who took exception to me because I stood up and demanded I be heard. I was ostracized, marginalized, made to feel inferior, undermined, opportunities were stripped from me, I was lied about, not believed and in the end I had to take leave because I was becoming physically ill. Eventually I had to resign for the sake of my health.
But in case you think this is a one off, this has happened to many others of my colleagues. In almost every school I have taught at, leadership have operated in a way which makes it impossible to bring about genuine change. Instead, statistics are manipulated, teachers are silenced and the system continues to support bad behavior of not only recalcitrant students, but those in leadership who are hell bent on increasing their portfolio of good deeds at the expense of actual practical results.
Don’t believe me? The assistant Principal at the school I mentioned asked me to pass a student who had done nothing but abuse me and other kids all semester. When I refused, he got angry and went straight to the Principal (who happened to be his wife) and I was told in no uncertain terms I was to pass her. Why? Because this student was one of his special cases and to not pass her would have reflected poorly on him. Never mind the evidence. Forget the fact the student was abusive and disobedient, failing to meet even one per cent of the course requirements (in year ten) for the subject.
By then I had had enough of being bullied and was prepared to risk it all on principle. I said straight to them both. “No. No I won’t pass a student who has done nothing. If you want to find a way to magically fiddle with her results, go ahead, but I won’t be writing her report and I don’t want my name or my subject associated with a falsified result.”
Soon after this, on advice from the school counselor and chaplain and after seeking medical support from a psychologist, I made the decision to go on leave and then ultimately to resign, relinquishing my cherished permanency to pursue the less stressful role of being a TRT.
I tried to take action against the Principal in question. But I was warned it would be a lengthy process and that because she had all the power, it would result in nothing but disappointment for me. And so it goes.