Monday, January 25, 2010

Teacher who spurns fame the real idol by Jane Caro

Got this in an email and thought I would share...

November 2, 2009

I get choked up watching children's school choirs sing, or as Dicko put it on Australian Idol, I have a quiet "blub". Trouble is, I don't really know why. Why do my eyes fill with tears and why does my throat constrict as the kids do their musical thing?

So universal is the emotional kick of primary school choirs that I think they have helped remove one of the more promising finalists from the latest Australian Idol competition.

Toby Moulton, a 30-year-old primary school teacher from Adelaide, saved one of his fellow contestants from departure on Sunday night by announcing his withdrawal from the competition. He claimed he'd rather be a teacher than a pop star. "I now know who I am,'' he said. "I am a teacher."

There has been much agonising about teacher training and recruitment. In the "blame the teacher" mentality that seems to rule in the big end of town, the growing inequality of our education system has been partly blamed on the low quality of teachers. Much has been made of their relatively low entry marks for university and the low numbers of men who go into the profession.

Solutions that have been suggested include performance pay, special deals for male applicants, and the recruitment of high-performing graduates from other disciplines to spend two years teaching before they leave for fame and fortune elsewhere. None of our business or government hard-heads, however, expected that the recruiter of their dreams could turn out to be a pleasant-voiced, clean-cut man from South Australia.

It seems those who bemoan the quality of teachers have forgotten how you attract anyone to any profession.

The rules are simple:
1. Treat teachers with respect and listen to their perspective.
2. Make sure that there is a clear career path available to teachers as they grow and learn on the job.
3. Give teachers opportunities to increase their skills and continuously gain access to formal professional development.
4. As teachers gain mastery in their practice, give them more autonomy over how they will operate in their classroom - make them accountable but not micro-managed.
5. Protect them from abuse and bullying - from staff, line management, senior management, politicians, media, students or parents.
6. Pay teachers appropriately.
Toby Moulton's decision will have done a great deal to raise the morale of a profession badly in need of it. It will remind teachers that what they do is a vocation and vitally important. But Moulton may have done teachers a disservice as well. Teaching is a female dominated profession that is about nurturing and caring for the young. We often exploit the people who go into such vocations precisely because they love what they do and use that as an excuse not to reward them appropriately.

The appalling way we pay teachers, the often crumbling conditions they work in, especially in public schools, the lack of resources and support we provide, are the main reason few men enter the profession. In Moulton's home state of South Australia, there are only 152 men currently enrolled in teacher training courses.

In previous episodes of Idol, audiences have been treated to Moulton returning home. We watched the school choir sing their hearts out in welcome - hence Dicko's "blub", and we watched a deeply moved Moulton struggle with his own feelings. Though Moulton is not the choirmaster, perhaps he - and the rest of us - got choked up hearing the choir sing because we finally understood how much time, effort, skill and, yes, love had gone into getting those kids to sing so beautifully.

It is a tribute to Moulton - and teaching in general - that he would rather teach young people to find their voices than seek fame and fortune with his own, but we shouldn't use that as an excuse to pay or support teachers poorly.

Jane Caro is co-author of The Stupid Country: How Australia Is Dismantling Public Education.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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