Motion : World Teacher's Day

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Published Thursday, September 28, 2017 | Share:

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:34): I rise to support the motion put by the member for Fisher in this house, that we celebrate World Teachers' Day, held annually on 5 October, and acknowledge the vital and inspirational role teachers play in providing quality education in a range of settings and to a diverse range of community members.

Having been a teacher myself—and, who knows, after March I may be going somewhat back into the profession, depending on situations that are slightly outside my control at the moment—it will come as no surprise to members that many of my close personal friends and family friends are teachers, and I echo the sentiments that have been put before this place in terms of the impact teachers have on a young person's life. It truly is one of those points in time when we have a collective of the next generation in one place—obviously multiple places, but collectively in one place—and teachers do have a significant impact.

I have come across many, many inspirational teachers in my time, far better teachers than I ever professed to be, including people like Garry Costello, who was one of the best English teachers probably in Australia, if not wider than that. He was so inspirational that many, many years after he left the classroom people still talk about how he inspired them to go on and fulfil their full potential. Toni Vorenos was another English teacher who still cares for young people, even though she has left the teaching fraternity. She owns a medium-sized business and employs young people who perhaps do not fit society's expectation of what a young person should look or sound like. The output she gets from those people is just phenomenal, and her business in Mount Gambier is thriving.

Jason Yates, a great mate of mine and one of the best maths teachers I have ever seen, could take kids who absolutely hated maths, hated anything to do with numbers, and, in a very short period of time, would have them looking forward to his class; in fact, some people who have been shown the door from school want to come back just to be in his maths class. It is truly phenomenal. There is also Scott Cramm, the junior school senior leader, who has an ability to maintain the ethos of the school, the discipline of the school, and work with parents and young people so that expectations are upheld and enforced but in a way that is fair and measured, and in some pretty difficult circumstances.

I would like to congratulate all teachers because tomorrow is the second happiest day on their calendar. The reason it is their second happiest day is that the school holidays start tomorrow and that leads into a fortnight of holidays. Of course the happiest day is the Friday just before the Christmas break because that is six weeks of leave.

I will give a little tip to the Labor candidate, and any other candidate who wants to run in Mount Gambier. We do not know who you are and the teachers will not know who you are, so tomorrow get down to the Gambier Hotel at about 3 o'clock. If you put $200 of your own money over the bar, like I will be doing, you will have most of the teachers voting for you forever. So tomorrow at 3 o'clock get down to the Gambier Hotel. That is where all the teachers come together. It is a tradition in the South-East, and it is one you should be part of. I am happy to make sure they have $400 or $600, if there are Independents running as well put your $200 on the bar and you are certain to be in the mix going forward.

In terms of the number of holidays, it is strange when you talk to people who are not teachers about the stress of teaching. I remember in my early days, particularly on a Sunday night, not getting a wink of sleep, having cold sweats, because your mind would go into a whole range of places: 'What happens if the class gets out of control? What happens if I'm challenged on something I'm presenting?' It is a very stressful time, particularly in those formative years of being a teacher, and that is something in the process that I do not think we recognise.

In fact, you come out of university and you are pretty much thrown into a classroom, the door is shut, and it is sink or swim and let's see how you go. I think we can do better on how we transition teachers into the profession, and certainly hopefully slow down the number who leave within the first couple of years. With regard to the mental stress, at the end of week 10 of any term, if you go into a school now you will see teachers who are physically and mentally exhausted because the pressure is constant.

Even when you are sick, it is easier to rock up to school and teach your classes, or class if you are in a primary school, because setting reliefs, dealing with the student behaviour management that often follows afterwards, plus all the marking and everything, is difficult. There are very few professions that have that level of stress and expectation that you will perform day in, day out regardless of your health.

In terms of universities and going forward, I would like to see some changes. I think the 10-week teaching block should be in the first 10 weeks of your university degree, because in the first 10 weeks you will work out whether or not this is a profession you would like to pursue. Having it at the end of a four-year degree, most people say, 'Well, I've come this far. Even if I don't like it, I need to earn some money to pay off my HECS debt,' and they continue into a profession that they may not have otherwise gone into, had it been right at the start. I would like to see an aptitude test where you devise something to see whether potential teachers actually like kids; 99 per cent do and go on to be very good teachers, but there is a percentage who perhaps would choose a different area if they realised that they actually did not like children.

We also need to look at how we attract teachers to country areas. When I went through, there was what was called a four-year guarantee. It was a great initiative of, I believe, a Labor government, but I stand to be corrected on that, where, if you went to the country for four years, you were guaranteed a permanent position back in the city after those four years. I went to the country, up to Port Augusta, on that four-year guarantee, and I have stayed in country areas, and many teachers have stayed, but they would not have gone out into country areas had that guarantee not been there.

Of course, I would like to see how we encourage more male primary school teachers. I think we will come to a point where, particularly for some students who do not have strong male role models in their lives, male primary school teachers can provide that level of assistance. I congratulate all primary school teachers, but I particularly note male primary school teachers. Unfortunately, we have a system where good, if not great, teachers are promoted out of the classroom. They take up leadership roles, which means that the time they spend in classrooms is decreased.

In finishing up, if we could do one thing to support teachers going forward—and not just words in this place—it is actively looking at how you reduce the bureaucratic paper load that teachers are expected to comply with these days, particularly principals and leaders, who I think should be focused on curriculum and focused on young people but who are seemingly spending an inordinate number of hours filling out paper for paperwork's sake.

I have one concern about NAPLAN. I agree we need some form of testing, but schools that start teaching to a test miss a whole range of teachable moments and opportunities that lie out there. We will start seeing a point where students are actively discouraged from coming to a test because it might lower the school's result, and that would be a shame going forward. In saying that, congratulations to all teachers, well done, and tomorrow down at the Gambier Hotel should be a good time.

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