With The Education Amendment Act 2015, the previous Government portrayed the teaching profession as one that could not be trusted to lead quality educational outcomes for New Zealand children and young people. Teachers were effectively stymied from directly influencing the leadership of their own profession and were instead represented by ministerial appointees.
As a fully certificated teacher I currently have to pay $220.28 every three years to maintain my registration with the Education Council. However although I regularly subsidise my professional body I currently have no direct representation to those on the Education Council Board.
Now the Education (Teaching Council of Aotearoa) Amendment Bill before Select Committee will hopefully go some way to restoring teachers’ status in society after the current legislation stripped teachers of their right to democratic access to their own professional body.
Clause Five of the new Bill will see the provision for seven council members to be elected directly from the teaching profession raises the status of teaching in two distinct ways. Firstly it sends a clear message to the teaching profession that they are valued and trusted to make decisions in the best interests of the students they serve.
In knowing that they can have a direct say in the strategic direction of their professional body teachers will recognise they are trusted in their public service role. When the public service ethos of a profession is emphasised the status of that profession is raised in the hearts and minds of the professionals themselves. We need teachers to value teaching to the extent that it is a career they would want their own children to enter. Sadly many anecdotal conversations I have had reveal this often is not the case. It is my belief that when teachers have a direct say in their own professional council some progress will have been made in raising the status of teaching within the profession itself.
Secondly, the provision of elected members of the profession on the council will raise the status of teaching in the mind of the public. When considering other professions it is difficult to find an example where there is no democratic input into the make-up of the national professional body from the professionals who are ultimately held accountable to that body. For example The New Zealand Medical Association have 5 elected members voted for by the profession while lawyers are able elect 14 branch representatives to sit on New Zealand Law Society Council.
The high trust awarded to lawyers and doctors was not afforded to teachers and subsequently the status of the profession has continued to decline. Evidence of the low status of teaching has within society is perhaps best illustrated in the alarming decline of those choosing to enter the New Zealand’s initial teacher education programmes over the last decade. Through this clause the current Government are demonstrating faith in teachers to effectively lead their profession. The return to a high trust relationship between the Government and teachers promised in this Bill can only raise the status of teaching in the public consciousness.
However I have reservations about Clause Four of the Bill that changes the name of the Education Council to the Teaching Council as I do not feel this name change actively reflects the multifaceted work we do as teachers. I believe as teachers we need to demonstrate the confidence in our profession as the previously mentioned occupations of lawyers and doctors. The name of their respective professional bodies indicates the breadth of the work they do, not what they are called. Doctors do the work of medicine and belong to the Medical Association, Lawyers do the work of law and belong to the Law Society, and teachers do the work of education and should belong to the Education Council.
Teaching is a profession I have always regarded in very high esteem. I have been proud to call myself a teacher for nearly thirty years. While I professionally identify as a teacher I see what I do as education. I believe education is a more accurate descriptor for what teachers do. Part of doing the work of education is learning, researching and debating the best ways to teach learners. It includes advocating for resources, systems and curricula that best meet the needs of learners locally, nationally and globally. It is also about being connected to communities so that learning moves beyond the walls of classrooms and the boundaries of schools. Part of doing the work of education is inquiring into the very purpose of education itself. Teaching is definitely fundamental to what teachers do but it is far from all that they do.
Paul Heyward is a professional teaching fellow at the University of Auckland.
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