Why choose to teach

A friend of mine, Dr Michelle Dyson, has kindly allowed me to quote her reaction to Jane Caro‘s article on ABC, A little respect: attracting top teachers is not rocket science. Here’s Michelle’s post in full:

Part of my brain thinks I have made a biiiigggg mistake embarking upon a teaching career after being a research scientist. I’m just two weeks away from being qualified to teach secondary science, senior biology and chemistry. I have an undergraduate degree in biotechnology with distinction and the University Medal. I have a first class Honours degree by research, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree with several peer-reviewed publications. I’ve excelled in my Graduate Diploma of Education studies. The ‘determined to make a difference’ side of the same brain is trying to win the battle, because of how important good teaching is. I’m not into teaching for the money, or the ‘cushy’ conditions. The only ‘cushy’ bit is that some of the work required to be a good teacher can be done from home after my own kids are in bed.

As a student teacher, I have been up till midnight and beyond most nights preparing lessons for my students, and all this without a cent in payment. Why? Because I passionately believe that teaching children critical thinking and analysis skills is so important for our nation’s future.

What would be nice, and this would make a real difference to the career satisfaction of teachers nationwide, is to be respected as a critical influence upon future generations. “Baby-sitting” my fat aunt!!

If I am busting my butt to plan engaging, relevant and memorable lessons, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that students and their parents actively participate, strive to achieve THEIR best, and that parents stop siding with their kids every time there is an identified problem. All that teaches children is that their teachers don’t deserve courtesy and respect. Also that mum or dad will bail them out of whatever self-imposed pickle they have landed themselves in by failing to put effort into their schoolwork.

Perhaps the unusual situation where independent and public school unions are planning to co-operate in industrial action might be the turning point we need. What would happen I wonder if we stopped teaching, and just “baby-sat”, until more than the basic necessities for teaching are provided? The Gonski Review has clearly identified what is required, much of it is simple common sense. Where $1.7 billion dollars worth of cuts in NSW alone is going to come from is a frightening prospect that literally brings tears to my eyes thinking about the effect on our country’s future.

Can someone please remind me WHY I have chosen this path again? To be valued and respected is a basic requirement. To have the facilities and equipment to do our jobs with is another. Monetary compensation? Not so important, but as my PhD supervisor told me once, when choosing between a paid job and a meager scholarship, “you gotta eat, kid”. Unless a career in teaching can be made more attractive with decent conditions and fair compensation, there is little hope of attracting enough quality teachers to replace those who are about to retire. Altruism is one thing, beating your head against a brick wall, repeatedly, is another.

How would you respond to Michelle?