For years the entire teaching profession has received negative criticism from the Australian public and media, but now it seems the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the public’s perception of teachers for the better.
The education sector was not immune from the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hit hard as the virus forced school closures and home-schooling became the new normal. While the migration to the home environment created many challenges, there were also some astounding success stories, including the re-emergence of the value of teachers and the greater uptake of the advantages of online learning.
Research shows that in the Western world the status of teaching has declined, with teaching actions and school outcomes often held to public scrutiny and media trial. The pandemic has opened a new dialogue, with a new appreciation of teachers foregrounded by transparent communication and respect for the qualification of the profession. By sharing teaching duties, a different understanding has emerged in the general public view of the challenges and pressures that teachers face, as well as the diversity and range of learning that teachers are required to prepare for. It has also meant greater collaboration between teachers and parents with the sole intent of addressing an individual child’s learning needs.
The communication between home and school, as well as the provision of learning material, in many cases saw greater use of the online platform. The sudden cessation of face-to-face support and tuition called for a re-think of the use of the online platform. Where possible, education providers established teaching platforms and support groups were formed very quickly. These groups for students, teachers and school communities allowed a range of support, from learning assistance and specialist teaching to wellbeing. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that these groups were well patronised.
The online platform also afforded greater connection for schools in regional and rural areas. It provided an asynchronous option that allowed greater flexibility to the learning day and possibly the learning style of the individual. Collaboration between educational providers and higher education in the areas of teacher professional development and online provision was also greater.
The scenarios that have been described were not without challenges and were not always experienced positively, however, one important outcome these scenarios influenced was the change in public perception of the role of the teacher.
The current positive discussions, praise and respect towards the teaching profession cannot be allowed to regress to its previous ignominious status.
In Australia, there is a shortage of teachers that increases almost exponentially as you move from the metropolitan to the rural areas. Teaching is such a fundamental necessity for the future of society and the future of nations. Showing teachers the respect and appreciation they deserve is key to ensuring an innovative and holistic education system contributing to Australia’s prosperity.
Education authorities, education providers and higher education institutions must seize the opportunity to redevelop the teaching profession to encourage intellect and opportunity and inspire great teaching. By doing this, these groups will re-energise the status of teaching among society.
For more on this topic by Professor David Smith, see the Media Centre for Education Research Australia’s latest issue of Education after COVID-19: ‘The teaching profession post-pandemic’ available on Education Review.