Sunday 8 June 2015
The Western Australian State government has just announced that every person sitting a Bachelor of Education will undertake, and must pass, literacy and numeracy tests before they are permitted to graduate because, y’know, it’s ultra-awesome if teachers can spell, read, write, punctuate, recite the times tables, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Well, duh! Ya think? Who would’ve thought that it was important for teachers to be competent in those areas?
Apparently, it’s taken the State government about twenty odd years to realise this. How do I know it’s taken that long? I’m glad you asked. I know it’s been that long because it’s been about twenty odd years since I graduated university with two university degrees that allowed me to be a teacher. Way back then, the majority of graduates coming out of teaching courses at universities had competent levels of literacy and numeracy. Why? Because we had to jump through education hoops in order to get into university in the first place.
About a year or so after I was accepted, universities began lowering the entrance scores that potential students needed in order to undertake teaching degrees. That’s right, you read that correctly, universities made it easier to get into uni to study teaching. Cogitate on that for just a moment. University entrance scores were lowered for the teaching programme. Put simply, this means that anyone could apply to study teaching. People who couldn’t spell, people who couldn’t perform basic mathematical functions, people who had no idea how to use punctuation correctly, or who had poor grammar, people who really shouldn’t have been permitted to study teaching. Feeding in to that mess was the fact that universities were pushing these people through the teaching programme, passing them when they should not have been passed, and school/teaching supervisors also allowed below par candidates to flow through the teaching practice programme simply because it was easier to get rid of them from the school than deal with the repercussions of failing a candidate.
I feel like a bit of a whistleblower at this point, because I think that many qualified teachers know perfectly well that they’ve been in schools where uni students on teaching pracs have been passed through the prac unit because the teaching supervisor felt sorry for the student, or didn’t want to be burdened with filling out the paperwork for a student who failed. That’s not forgetting that it would have looked bad for the university had so many students been failed in the prac unit. Oh, and all that money that the universities would have potentially lost by having students leave courses. We can’t forget how powerful and influential the almighty dollar is.
So back to point. This literacy and numeracy push is long, long overdue. Personally, for years I’ve been dealing with colleagues who can’t spell, can’t use correct punctuation or grammar, can’t complete basic mathematical functions or recite times tables. It seems to me that every new group of teaching graduates is becoming worse, and are in great need of some numeracy and literacy lessons. It is also clear to me that another solution to this problem is to increase the required university entrance score for teaching. Decreasing it was a part of the reason why today’s teachers are so sh!t at literacy and numeracy, so it’s common sense that increasing it will be a remedy.
No cohort of teaching graduates or experienced teachers is immune to the lack of literacy and numeracy issue. There are teachers around my age and older who have poor literacy and numeracy skills. However, I think there are far fewer teachers with poor skills in the older cohorts than there are in the younger, and up and coming potential graduates. It’s a bit of a rash generalisation, but I think my cohort and those older actually cared more about levels of literacy and numeracy, cared more about levels of education, and succeeding the ‘right’ way – through hard work, sustained hard work not a quick fix.
Yeah, yeah, I know I’m going to infuriate a sh!t load of potential university teaching graduates but you know what? I hope I have. I hope that I have made them angry enough to actually start paying attention to their own education levels and skills before they get out and start inflicting their poor skills on kids. It’s not cool to spell a word incorrectly on a whiteboard, and then laugh it off or tell the class it doesn’t matter when a kid mentions that you’ve bunged up your spelling. We’ve all been there, stuffing up the spelling of a word or dividing numbers incorrectly on the whiteboard for the whole class to see. It’s how you deal with it that will leave a mark on the kids. Don’t penalise them for picking out your mistake . . . unless they’re a bad winner about it. Respect is still queen in my classroom. Just as I don’t demoralise the kids for mistakes, I expect that they point out my mistakes, or the mistakes of their classmates with decorum, respect, and courtesy. Don’t be a dick about picking up the mistake. But I digress.
Are literacy and numeracy test needed for university students who are studying their way through teaching programmes? Yes, absolutely, no doubt about it, these people need to be assessed on their literacy and numeracy skills because it’s clear that universities are not going to raise their expectations of potential teaching students by continuing to allow below par skilled people into the courses. Should many current teachers be required to sit these tests? Some of them should, yes. Why not all of them? Fortunately for many of us, our literacy and numeracy levels are really quite good, if not above average, highly competent or exceptional. Ah, but so many sucky teachers are out there. Sucky teachers who got through the teaching programme after I graduated. So, so many sucky teachers who are educating, or at least they are attempting to educate, your children. Scary, isn’t it?
Will these literacy and numeracy tests solve the problem of sucky teachers in our education system? Absolutely not. Reform needs to occur within the system for sucky teachers to be cleansed from educating kids. Serious change needs to be implemented and as teachers are aware of where kids are concerned, sweeping tests (such as NAPLAN) aren’t the answer if we want to create reforms that actually work.
Rant over. Nothing further to see here. Go on about your business. Enjoy your day. 😉