A social revolution starts with teachers’ status

Teacher shortage leads to recruitment of teachers without adequate training, or those who have passed a crash course to be admitted. No wonder the profession’s image is so low.

Recently, the public has begun to internalize the strong correlation between the educational system and graduates’ ability to become part of the work force. Educated, skilled workers who are well prepared for the 21st-century are key to nations’ economic success and ability to compete in a fast changing world that poses complex challenges. The secret of the nations that top the global comparison tables lies mainly in their teachers, who are perceived as the builders of the nation and are recognized, appreciated and nurtured by governments, media and the public.

While the importance of education as a tool for social change, growth and breaking through in every area, in particular in a country as small and deprived of natural resources as Israel is clear to all, in practice, the teaching profession in Israel is lagging behind. Educational reforms such as “Ofek Hadash” and “Oz Letmura” have improved teachers’ wages to some extent in exchange for extra hours, but the education ministry’s figures show that the number of students studying toward a  Bachelor’s degree in teaching has been declining since 2016. At the same time, the number of students studying for a post-graduate teaching certificate or master’s degree in teaching is on the rise. In other words, teaching seems less attractive for younger people who are planning their professional career, whereas the ideals of the professions are attractive for people embarking on a second career, or those who are alarmed by rising unemployment rates.

Concurrent with these changes, it is evident that there are not enough teachers for certain subjects, such as English and science, especially in specific regions of Israel. This means that the teachers who do enter the education system lack adequate training. Some of them start teaching right out of a crash training course. When anyone can become a teacher, it is no wonder that the profession has acquired a poor image.

To correct this situation, the government  ought to take several steps:

  1. Embark on structured planning of teaching personnel, including training of larger numbers of teachers than actually needed since people tend to switch careers more frequently today.
  2. Pass the teaching profession law to ensure oversight of the people who teach our children.
  3. Establish a teacher placement system to use the graduate pool more efficiently.
  4. Implement real improvement in teachers’ employment conditions, including a personal work space, laptop and internet connectivity and sufficient time allocated during the work day for teamwork and professional development, reinforcing beginning teachers with fewer teaching hours to enable optimal integration, and development of career paths for teachers.
  5. Expand teachers’ autonomy in choosing their teaching subject, teaching method and learning assessment method. As the people who know best their pupils and the school’s pedagogical perception, teachers can go a long way in refreshing the system from within, provided they are given the conditions to do so. Thus, it is high time the class schedule and content become more flexible and class population reduced to promote personal attention and care towards the pupils.
  6. Establish adequate academic and professional training that links practical-clinical knowhow with research-based and theoretical knowledge.
  7. Raise teachers’ wage to engineers’ wage

If all of the above is implemented, we may be able to attract high quality candidates, as pointed out by research on teaching policy in Singapore, Finland and Canada. With the right planning, determined execution and efficient resource allocation, teachers’ status could be truly transformed for the better. These changes do not mandate larger education budget but better allocation of existing budgets. For example, by cutting red tape, eliminating unnecessary projects that  have nothing to do with the Education Ministry’s role and reducing state budgets earmarked for NGO’s and outsourcing parties, large amounts of money can be freed for improving teachers’ training and hence their status.

It is critical that decision makers who set the agenda as well as control the budget place education high on their priority list, but not only in public addresses. Educational transformation starts with teachers’ status.

About the Author
Prof. Tamar Ariav is the President of Beit Berl College
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