Burial Ceremony

‘Bury them deep

under the muffling weight

of [political point scoring]

Heap over them all

the shining excrement of those

who feed on [diatribe]’

(with apologies to Bruce Dawe and his ‘burial ceremony’)

There has been an awful lot of stuff published recently in various print media about performance pay for teachers. I personally believe that not enough debate, debate that centres on critical thinking about this issue and its concomitant consequences for our students if such a proposal is adopted, has been evident.

There has been evidence of self interest, on the part of teachers…enlightened self interest in many cases, but still self interest. I’m not decrying this. For too long, teachers have been expected to be selfless martyrs to the cause of education: ‘called’ to the classroom to be Mr Chips, Miss Brodie or some other incarnation of the teacher-ideal.

In my view, far too little time and space has been given to the effects on student learning that a performance-based pay scheme for teachers would possibly have. In today’s AGE, whilst commenting on the effects of publishing league tables, the University of Melbourne academic, Richard Teese, is quoted as saying “Applied learning, depths of understanding, flexibility in delivering programs — all of the things that focus on the child as a learner for the long term will be frustrated and compromised by a narrowing focus on test scores”.

Yes! If performance-based pay uses student test scores as a substantial indicator of a teacher’s ‘success’ as an educator (and all indications are that this is the way both political parties are thinking), then I too believe that authentic learning – educating for understanding – will be at substantial risk; especially in mathematics. Consequently, students could be ‘trained’ to perform well in such tests and training is not the same as educating. An emphasis on ‘skill drill’ will result and all the hard work (and it is hard for many teachers of mathematics to reflect on their practice and make changes to their methodologies towards practices that involve students thinking about the ideas that provide the cognitive structure for the mathematics they explore) the profession has done recently to develop teachers’ learning about how students learn will only be supported by the mavericks.

Pity the many losers in a less than coherent and poorly put together performance-based pay scheme – the teachers and the students. Teachers, however, have well-developed ways of knowing and understanding. This is what we are meant to be encouraging in our students. I fear that this proposed system will not produce the ‘knowledge nation’ so beloved of our political leaders but a nation of people who only strive to achieve demonstrable standards of uncertain quality and authenticity which are set by others. I fear it will limit both teachers and students.

It is up to those who really care about students and their modes of learning to assert themselves and articulate their anguish over this senseless proposal.

When all is said and done there is only the people,

..miming their speechless anguish, always and everywhere, the people..”

(Horst Gochnauer) 

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About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in The profession, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Burial Ceremony

  1. I feel your pain.
    However I am one of the mavericks of which you speak. I will go on teaching kids for the kids sake regardless of the political climate. I already struggle with colleagues and prents who angst over performance. A political tun in that direction only serves to bring it further into the light.
    Fascist control of the political agenda waxes and wanes over time. To begin with the people love it when it first waxes. Remember that under italian facism the trains ran on time. But in time the people get sick of being controlled. Edcational facism seems to be winning the day.
    I appreciate the call to arms but I would prefer to focus on fighting the good fight in the classroom. I will go on teaching regardless of what they pay me or of how I am measured.
    I know this is probably an extreme view but I wanted to express it.

  2. Linda says:

    Hi Russel – I appreciate your comment. Glad to hear of your maverick status and that you plan to teach in ways you consider enrich our students, regardless of financial incentives to perhaps do otherwise. It is very important that we all continue to ‘fight the good fight’, as you say, in the classroom….for that is where the most influence over learning will occur. In my experience, however, it is sometimes difficult to teach the way one would like to, within the constraints imposed on the curriculum by external forces; one of these being proposed national testing and teacher pay being tied to the results that arise from this. I also believe that it is important that politicians hear the ‘teacher’s voice’ in debate otherwise we are not really being treated as a profession. Best wishes for the new term.

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