Improving our schools

Arnold O’Reilly gives a teacher’s point of view on how to fix the crisis in our education system.

I write in response to the utter nonsense written in the newspapers regarding education, particularly the proposed assessment of teaching “performance”, and the awarding of pay rises for those judged to be “excellent “teachers. It is patently clear that most of these “discussions” seem totally unrelated to what is really going on in schools, and more to the point, what is needed to improve the situation of ever declining standards of literacy and numeracy, as well as the content of courses.

This is a large subject, and I will endeavour to keep this article as short and to the point as possible. I have had 20 years experience teaching mainly in the private secondary school system in Australia, but also some years as a teacher in the public sector in England.

What is a teacher?

A teacher is a communicator of knowledge, and an organiser of worthwhile learning experiences. He/she should also be a role model, demonstrating the need for cleanliness, organisation, and a hard work ethic, as well as other desirable virtues and standards of public behaviour, i.e. manners, consideration for others, punctuality, co-operation and the value of learning.

The importance of looking like a professional

Except for the private schools, teachers in the public sector generally present poorly, wearing inappropriate clothing, which is casual and reflects an attitude of laxness, certainly counter-productive in a school environment. Students are very perceptive, and notice everything about the teacher’s dress, manners and presentation. This fact is very important: many teachers ignore the necessity to look and behave as professionals. A dress code should be introduced to all schools and enforced.

The reality of the classroom experience and the stresses on teachers

However, today’s classes are a nightmare minefield of potential litigation, and daily conflict, due to student arrogance, ignorance, apathy, and downright aggression. While by no means all students misbehave, there are always groups within every class, whose agenda is to provoke the teacher in ways that amount to abuse of varying kinds, from insults to actual threats of violence. They also use cunning strategies designed to de-rail the best prepared lessons. Many teachers have been assaulted, resulting in serious injury, and psychological damage, this is particularly true in England. In Britain, the teacher is urged to ensure that he/she is covered by suitable insurance to cover such situations, as some have suffered a permanent incapacity, as a result of assault by students: e.g. a female staff member pushed down stairs, and now confined to a wheelchair: a science teacher blinded in a classroom science experiment using acids, are just two examples which spring to mind.

Assaulting a teacher is a serious matter, but the “system” usually does not deal effectively with this outrage, as the available sanctions are a joke. Students enjoy being suspended, as it means they do not have to attend school for a while.

This clearly illustrates the absurdity of giving children the same rights and privileges as adults, as they do not have the maturity or responsibility to cope with this situation.

The role of parents

Parents are not educators and have no idea of what it is to stand in front of a class of difficult individuals who behave as though they are a law unto themselves.

The parent’s role should be to support the teacher in discipline matters, and to re-enforce the need to conform to normal standards of behaviour, but a typical response these days is to undermine the teacher, whose authority is now practically non-existent and being constantly eroded with the passing of each year. It should be remembered, that several generations of parents have passed through this so-called “education system”, and are products of the same process, which is now clearly seen to have failed. Their children simply mirror their aggression and ignorance.

Teachers are generally poorly regarded by the public, and are blamed for the inadequate academic performance of their children, a sizeable and growing proportion of whom do all they can to frustrate the teacher in his capacity as educator.

While pseudo scholarly discussions about the failings of the education system abound in the media, it is the lack of discipline in schools and the banishment of corporal punishment that has contributed significantly to poor student performance. Further, parents should keep out of school affairs, as it is not their responsibility to run a school: they are not trained or informed about the difficulties of dealing with belligerent students who are ruled by the pack instinct of the jungle, and delight in provoking teachers sometimes by physical intimidation, and bodily assault.

Teachers commonly choose not to report incidents of assault, because of the trouble it causes, and the absurd fact that students have more rights than teachers. In most cases, the teacher is held to blame, regardless of the circumstances. This must change. Every utterance a teacher makes, he or she can be held responsible for. The very words are twisted in your mouth, and innocent remarks can cause serious consequences by the time they are dealt with by the principal, who is forced to act in response to a letter written by some irate parent. In this situation, it is often impossible to avoid the use of words which are appropriate, but are then used against the teacher. Students are adept at “setting up” teachers in order to get them into trouble. This is where the oppressive and unreasonable “political correctness” plays into their hands.

Political correctness must be erased from school life and all areas of public life: it is a challenge to normal free expression and is not to be tolerated.

This is the reality that no-one, it seems, is prepared to face or comment upon.

Nepotism, favouritism, and politics in the teaching arena

Staffrooms can be difficult places for teachers to survive in. On entering a new school, a teacher is “tested” not only by the students, but also by his “colleagues”.

One becomes aware that you are under close scrutiny, and that you are being reported on by colleagues who have the principal’s ear. You are relegated a position on some absurd ‘pecking order” and you become aware that this is a process completely out of your control, totally subjective, and usually unfair as well. If you possess a superior knowledge in your field, you are often seen as an unwelcome competitor for the limited promotion opportunities that exist in most schools.

In this system, in which people are judged by others whose views are coloured by personal prejudice, or a calculated move to unseat a potential rival, how can a true assessment of teacher “ability” be made? Teaching is not, and should never be, a “popularity contest”, in which, the supposedly nicest, friendliest personality is judged by the ignorant to be the “best teacher”. Unfortunately, all teachers are aware that they are judged by these standards, and feel obliged to “make allowances”, instead of maintaining the proper professional distance, needed to control a class. This is a common failing by inexperienced teachers, who soon find that they are in deep trouble when familiarity has bred contempt!

The most ridiculous thing I have ever heard is the suggestion that parents and students be allowed to judge “teacher quality”. Any “judgement of this sort is likely to be based on the superficial values already mentioned.

Reporting methods

The teacher is not permitted to write honest reports, particularly those that reflect the truth about student ability, as such reports might be a negative influence on the way the school wishes to perceive itself. A report that is considered too critical, must be “watered down”, and “embellished” with positives before being sent to parents. This is particularly true of private schools, which compete for students, whose fees are essential to their survival.

Reporting methods are unnecessarily complex, and should be scrapped for a simple 1-10 or A – F grading system. Again, complexity in reporting is designed to “mellow” the real outcomes of student performance, and in any honest system, should not be tolerated for a moment. The teacher has no say in how a reporting system is to be implemented, but acts on instructions from the school administration, whether they agree with the results or not.

Not everyone can be a success

The absurd concept that has crept in over many years, and which seems to stem from labor ideology “that everyone can pass and be a success”, regardless of the effort that is put into the course of study, has done much to lower standards to the present abysmal level. However unpalatable it may be, it is necessary to face the fact that some students haven’t done the work required of them, and do not deserve a pass. They must be made to repeat, not simply promoted to the next level. At all levels, academic performance is linked to behavioural standards. The “system” is failing students, because it is full of cowards who are not prepared to implement traditional discipline, which is the only solution to these issues. Many generations have learnt the best way to bring up a child, but contemporary society in its supposed “enlightenment”, chooses to ignore the wisdom of thousands of past generations. Hence the encouragement of poor standards and criminal behaviour.

As we have seen ,the present corrupt, degraded system doesn’t work. This bears out the fact that traditional standards have never been irrelevant, as the “do gooders” seem to think.

The “dreaming”

The crowded school curriculum needs to be vastly simplified. New, impractical, even ridiculous material is devised by the education department, not teachers. These people appear to be in complete ignorance of the classroom situation, many of them have not taught for many years, some probably never. Much of the material is ideologically driven, always left-wing, particularly aimed at brainwashing students into an unquestioning acceptance of rat bag ideas, which do a great deal to ensure that “political correctness” is firmly cemented into the school agenda. This has the very undemocratic effect of stifling honest discussion, and discouraging free speech.

Left wing feminism and the decline of male participation in teaching

Be aware, that some schools are dominated by old fashioned, left wing feminist ideology, and are places that approve of promotion of women over men, simply because they are women. It is not unusual to find schools where the principal, deputy principal, and all the senior staff are women. It is this, which is in part to blame for the exodus of men from teaching much to the detriment of a healthy gender balance, and to the hastening of the decline in discipline. Women do not have quite the same authority over students as a male teacher does: that is just a fact of nature that women teachers, who are sympathetic to the man-hating regime of the traditional feminist would no doubt, strongly disagree with, but then, they would also argue that the sexes are capable of performing the same tasks in everything, when countless studies have conclusively shown, the sexes are complimentary, rather than the “same”.

Life in these schools is hell for men, and leads to rapid departures, once the unfortunate male realises what the dominant force in the school is.

Technical Education, much maligned and ignored for too long

The decision to dismantle the technical school system was a disaster, as many students not suited or interested in academia, find fulfillment and satisfaction in learning the practical skills that this country is very much in need of. It is both undesirable and unnecessary to bring in labour from third world countries, which merely becomes an additional source of unwanted migration from these areas.

The introduction of subjects such as “Design Technology” is a waste of time, as it is an attempt to “put the horse before the cart”. Students cannot be expected to design even the simplest of objects, without a prior knowledge of materials and methods of working them. For this reason, there are few teachers who could be bothered with this subject which is based on a lie, but a very good example of the stupidity of the material issuing from the curriculum services branch.

There are, in practice very few teachers who are trained well enough to get any worthwhile results from students who take these classes. It requires a teacher with a formal background in practical woodwork, metalwork, and building studies, with experience in industry to complement it, in order to fill the gaps in student knowledge. How many teachers are there like that? The few that are, and that remain teachers are not appreciated, due to the ignorance of administrators. The invaluable knowledge that they bring to the subject, and the resulting enrichment of the school curriculum that results, is not understood, or appreciated. Inevitably, frustrated by the usually poor facilities, low pay and low standing of their subject (because it is “manual”, rather than “academic, that the snobs in administration have no understanding or sympathy for) most return to the far more lucrative employment on building sites or other forms of manufacturing.

I spent 20 years covering for the incompetence of colleagues who were supposedly trained to teach these subjects. Working 60 hour weeks, I was obliged to set up two workshops in Australia, and one in Britain, all in my own time, and for no reward. Worse still, people with skills obtained outside teaching, which in this field, are of far more use, are often paid less than a teacher that has been trained at one of the pathetic training establishments – this iniquity needs to be corrected.

The impact of “multi-racialism”

A cause of disharmony in schools, where there are frequent conflicts at worst, and a simmering tension at best. In the “elite” private schools there is fierce competition for students from the Asian region: indeed, they even send staff to various “school fairs” in Asia, in order to “recruit” them from there! Clearly, it is the aim of students from this region is to settle permanently in Australia, and to then bring their relatives over, having established a “bridgehead” in Australia first. This can only be described as a conduit for illegal immigration, nothing more.

The Immigration authorities need to look closely at how this system is being implemented. There can be no doubt that the sharp decline in community standards coincides with large scale, non- European immigration. As we all know, some of these source countries, notably China and India have abhorrent practices such as infanticide, while Arabic/Muslim cultures are corrupt by Western standards, and display a real contempt for women. This is not likely to ever change, creating a permanent problem.

Women teachers in schools where there are concentrations of these people are exposed to these attitudes, and are frequently reduced to tears. The sheer number of non-European immigrants is disturbing and unsettling to the white population. People have had enough. As acknowledged by Tony Blair in Britain recently, multiracialism is a failure. It has caused widespread resentment and extreme difficulties in Europe.

Judging teacher “quality”

The Department head has always been the only source of accurate judgment of teacher performance. He/she has an intimate knowledge of the organisational skills and effectiveness of class management techniques that the individual teacher possesses – no one else: not principals; certainly not students or their parents. The department head knows exactly what is going on in his area, and any problems are dealt with promptly. While favouritism cannot be ruled out here either, it is still the most reliable source of information about individual teacher performance.

Should teachers all be paid according to their perceived worth?

The answer is unequivocally no, as those who are incompetent don’t last in any case. They are weeded out promptly, usually on the recommendation of the department head. The truth is, it is difficult to establish just who is a “great” teacher, and who isn’t. Even exam results are no guide, as the performance of any given group of students depends entirely on the motivation level of the individuals who make up the group.

The awarding of higher salaries to so-called “super” teachers causes consternation and division in teaching. All teachers are aware that they perform more or less the same tasks within their individual subject areas. Such practice is viewed with contempt, as it is usually grossly unfair, and the result of nepotism. Good teachers are rewarded with promotion: that is the way it should be.

How to raise Education standards, and make teaching a worthwhile career

1. Restore traditional discipline in schools, no matter how difficult this may be. Bring back effective sanctions, including corporal punishment where it is needed. The mere threat of corporal punishment is enough to control most students. How many professionals go off to work every morning with the expectation of being abused, even assaulted?

2. Clean out the left-inspired ideologues from the Education Department who have been devising curriculum material promoting political concepts, usually disguised in its content, much of which borders on nonsense and trivia. This, the hapless teacher then has to then implement. An independent body has to evaluate just what the objective of this material is. Anything that is redolent of social engineering must be rejected.

There are several reasons why much of this material is produced: Firstly to justify the existence of those who enjoy well paid jobs away from the stress of the classroom. Secondly, as ideologues have hijacked the education agenda, the objective appears to be to disseminate political material, nothing to do with normal education objectives, and finally, to try to find new, and novel/ridiculous ways of steering lesson material around student apathy and resistance to learning, which, as every trained teacher knows, is caused by a total absence of basic discipline.

Keep parents and students out of school matters, and bring back respect for teachers and those in authority. The assault of a teacher by a student should be punished by instant dismissal of the student, and in cases where an injury has been sustained by the teacher, the parents must expect to pay damages. Protect teachers from litigation in these matters; they should not be thrown back on their own resources. A teacher has every right to defend himself against assault, or those attempting to do him bodily harm. Students know that the teacher can only use “reasonable force” in order to restrain a student who is violent – this actually encourages attacks on teachers.

3. Review the need for Asian/African students who are here to settle, not study. The Immigration department needs to review the practices of private schools who bring into Australia large numbers of students from non-European countries.

4. Simplify administration and reporting methods. Go back to honesty and integrity: allow teachers to assess properly, and to write honest reports. Depoliticise teaching.

5. Make underachieving students repeat a year level, if the standard has not been attained.

6. Force students and parents to confront the necessity for self discipline and to honestly admit to their own short comings, instead of blaming teachers, or “the system”. Good luck on that one.

7. Bring back the Technical school system.

8. Offer teachers secure tenure of employment, instead of short term contracts. It is damaging to student’s education to have a constant turnover of teachers, as there is no continuity of learning experience.

In conclusion, teaching has become just plain intolerable, with conflict and tensions as a feature of a teacher’s daily experience. This is because the agenda has been seized by political interests in the important areas of training and curriculum development, and political correctness has become firmly entrenched.

This is evident in the attitudes of teachers fresh from training establishments, who are clearly not equipped to deal with the realities of teaching, have been “brainwashed” into believing that students are a passive audience, just waiting to be filled with knowledge. The reality, I am afraid, is a shock to them.

Experienced teachers are needed to equip them with the necessary survival strategies after their graduation, however, due to the exodus of teachers from the profession, there are difficult times ahead. Most teaching graduates remain in teaching only a short time; just long enough to realise what is going on, moving to less stressful employment elsewhere.

The decline of teaching quality, is in every way, a result of the decline in academic standards, which in turn, is intrinsically linked to the degradation of the teaching profession, due to changing social attitudes to discipline, respect, and manners. These attitudes need to be reversed, but it must come from Government.

This situation will not change, no matter what new “system” is implemented, regardless of the tripe that academics come up with, unless traditional discipline, including everything that belongs to it, such as corporal punishment, is reinstated.

Teaching is long overdue for changes, and we must implement new policies for the future.

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