I was fortunate enough to speak at the Australian College of Educators conference in Sydney this week. During my conversations with other conference attendees during the breaks I noticed a real sense among teachers that they are undervalued as professionals, and that conceptions of various aspects of schooling as being ‘in crisis’ tend to further this perception and contribute to the further marginalisation of a group of people who are already under a great deal of stress.
This led me to consider what is actually lost when we as a society give voice to this type of crisis discourse. Perhaps surprisingly, we lose are the voices of teachers in our public discussions. Teachers are at the coalface of education. When everyone is permitted to speak to the topic of education – to voice opinions and to declare professional qualities to be lacking – we lose the impetus for teachers to speak. When it becomes possible for people to lend their opinions on the basis of personal experience – and to have their judgments weighted as highly as those of the teachers experiencing the school environment on a daily basis – we lose the privilege of those experts offering their voices – and certainly the ability to distinguish true experience from the endless noise of opinion founded only on a vague memory of life as a student. This is not to argue that no non-expert has a right to speak on the subject of education – merely that non-experts speaking of crisis have the ability to drown out expert perspective.
I also discovered the incredible pressure on teachers occurring as a result of crisis discourses. Speaking to teachers who experienced near simultaneous comments stating that children were out of control and that it is a good thing that the cane has been outlawed, it became clear that these competing discourses are both associated with a sense that teachers are in some way incompetent, untrustworthy. This is an unfair aspersion cast on a profession of people who dedicate their lives to improving opportunities for children. Perhaps, in a climate so imbued with blame, it is little wonder that large numbers of early career educators opt out of the profession.