Attracting the ‘best and brightest’ into teaching…

If you want an explanation of the gulf of mistrust that exists between the teaching profession in New Zealand and the Minister of Education, you need only look at this article

Teaching needs to attract the best and brightest.

It sounds nice.

Saying you want to attract the best and brightest people into teaching is a bit like saying you want to raise educational standards.

Nobody is ever going to argue against higher standards or not having highly competent people employed in classrooms.

But much like the deeply unpopular national standards, how you define ‘best and brightest’ and more importantly how you reward ‘best and brightest’ play a very important role in determining how you build educational culture.

So for a Minister of Education to be quoted as saying if teaching is a higher-performing profession “it will attract more men” you are already off to a miserable start.

Firstly because are implying the profession isn’t performing well especially in comparison to the fields of law, medicine and engineering. More importantly, this underperformance is due to teaching being a female-dominated profession.

When you walk the halls of the Schools of Education around the country, you definitely notice that there aren’t as many school leavers as you’ll find in the other professional courses.

Teaching often attracts ‘mature’ students.

There some are second-chancers who didn’t do well in school and then rose up through foundation courses to start their degree.  There are also a number of students who have been out in the workforce for a number of years and are looking for a change of scene as well as those whose career priorities have changed as they’ve had kids.

I don’t see this as a bad thing.

Teaching is a job where interesting life experience is definitely an asset. Being inspired into teaching through your own children is is important rite of passage for many teachers, as you’ll spend most of your day interacting with children.

Not everyone is cut out to work with kids when they are 20 but might have a lightbulb moment at 35 once they’ve had their own children.

Which leaves the elephant in the room, teaching is for those not smart enough to gain entry into law and medicine which is why so many women are attracted to the course.

If we are going to narrowly define teaching quality in terms of passing exams, then our Schools of Education probably come up short. But passing exams is not the true measure of a teacher, the potential to inspire learning in children is far more important.

Often it is those who experience failure in the education system who go on to to be the most amazing teachers. They understand struggle, to bounce back from adversity and how those ‘hard to reach kids’ tick far more than the academic high fliers simply because at some point they were one of those kids.

To incentivise those with high grades at the exit point of high school into teaching through cutting off places to drive up demand as the Minister seems to be proposing may very well deprive the educational system of vital expertise.

So how do you attract people, especially young school leavers,  into teaching?

Rather than look to compete on ‘incentives,’ which the public sector will never be able to do, look for the strength within.

The best ambassadors for recruiting people into teaching are teachers.

Yet if I was a secondary student watching the teachers in my school would I be inspired to go into teaching?

I don’t just mean in terms of qualifications and teaching competency , although those are important, but do my teachers look like they are happy with their lives?

I suspect the kids see in too many of their teachers what New Zealand-based educators see in themselves and their colleagues, long hours, stress and tiredness.

Maybe the problem is that the ‘best and brightest’ have looked in their schools and seen there are far too many unhappy teachers.

No amount of new teachers will save a bad culture in education.

That’s evident by the number new of teachers who leave the system within the first few years of teaching. 

It is contradictory to say you want the best people possible to enter the classroom and then set up a working environment that micromanages those within it to the point where all creativity, innovation and passion is progressively squeezed out of them.

If we look at the current educational policy environment in New Zealand, that’s exactly what’s happening.

National standards, PaCT, a code of teacher conduct rather than ethics and stripping teachers of the right to democratically govern their profession goes against teacher opinion.

Don’t demand a cordon bleu chef to flip burgers at McDonalds year after year and then act surprised when they look elsewhere for opportunities.

The best advertisement to get people to enter teaching and stay there long term are happy teachers.

At the moment, teachers in New Zealand aren’t happy.

2 thoughts on “Attracting the ‘best and brightest’ into teaching…

Add yours

  1. Thanks. Very astute and clear analysis of the current state of NZ edu-culture… The govt are not on the same page as the profession. They’re reading a completely different book. Published 50 years ago. Written by an accountant and a statistician…


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