Great Teaching Matters Most

Great Teachers Make a Difference

An unofficial survey undertaken by the Herald on Sunday about parental concern over class size is certainly not evidence-based research, but it does serve as an opportunity for a discussion about what is a quality education.

There is much debate about class size. On the one hand, analysis from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrates the average country PISA score in reading, numeracy and science has little relation to class size. There are many other studies which show a reduction in class size has a positive but, actually, quite small effect on achievement.  On the other hand, I can see why parents assume the larger the class size, the poorer the education: more children means less individual attention. That can, indeed, be true; but as New Zealander Professor John Hattie has noted, teachers don’t always change their teaching style when there are fewer children in the class.

So what constitutes a quality education? Well, it is about teachers in the main. Excellent teachers will be excellent teachers in a variety of teaching environments and class sizes. They will be adaptive because that is part of their teaching practice. They will be current in their knowledge and able to utilise the most appropriate technology or approach for their class. They will be inclusive and understand teaching isn’t just a one-way process but one that requires reciprocity. Good teachers understand collaboration is the key – they will work across their teaching community and across the school community to get the best results for their students. Excellent teachers will work with parents and understand the role that parents can play. Excellent teachers may become excellent principals and excellent principals will lead with vision and purpose.

We are fortunate in New Zealand to have a very strong profession.  New Zealand teachers are sought after in many countries. Recruiters from the United Kingdom are active, right now, in our country. But the Education Council agrees with sentiments about wanting to raise the status of teaching as a profession. The Council wants teaching to be as attractive to people choosing their careers as other professional occupations. 

The cultural respect accorded to teaching as a career is, arguably, underdeveloped in New Zealand. Teachers contribute more to our society than is often recognised. Building that cultural respect is a challenge and it means, among other things, addressing the issue of compensation, having a better match of supply and demand, having a focus on a professional working environment, and providing opportunities for career enhancement and advancement.  Various educative initiatives are seeking to address some of these issues but building cultural respect also requires more public understanding of the role of teachers and teaching.

For this reason, the Education Council is pleased the Herald on Sunday took the opportunity to raise these issues at the start of the year.  But let’s focus on what matters – teachers and teaching.  As American Astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, said “I touch the future. I teach”.  

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