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TSC strife with teachers detrimental to learners

EDUCATION
By Antoney Luvinzu | October 4th 2021

Teachers must feel part of the decision-making processes. [Courtesy]

We recently got a new CEO at the organisation I work for. An evidently brilliant chap with a lucid mind. Suave, eloquent, charismatic, witty. He sat us down for a tête-à-tête to get to know us and understand the organisation.

He was up-close and personal, and one thing he kept emphasising was the fact that he wanted everyone to feel valued, seen, heard.

He wanted everyone to feel that they matter – from the very top to the very bottom. That above everything else, he was there to support the faculty and the ancillary staff, to ensure that they give the best to the learner. That he understood that a happy teacher/ancillary staff translated to a happy learner.

And I thought to myself - here is a guy who understands the dynamics of the 21st-Century workplace, and the psychology of the modern employee – to feel valued, to be involved in the decision-making process so that they own it, to feel seen and heard.

Here is someone who embodies the very philosophy underpinning modern education best practices – collaboration, stewardship, open-mindedness.”

And so this is what kept ringing at the back of my mind, as I watched the strife pitting teachers and MPs in one corner, and the TSC in another, over the Teacher Professional Development programme.

How sad that such a noble idea could be choked and strangled, almost, just because the approach does not seem well thought out.

For starters, I must say I find some of the policy statements by TSC quite noble and progressive. And I am persuaded they come from a good place and they are for the best interest of the learner.

But I must also aver that I tend to take issue with how they are communicated, and executed, which, in effect, makes it a zero-sum game. And guess who the biggest loser usually is? Yes, the said learner.

Why? Because an unhappy teacher translates to an unhappy learner. Teaching is a highly emotional trade, and as such, it is easy for teachers to project their happiness or unhappiness to the learners. So you better have a happy teacher, as opposed to an unhappy one, a frustrated one. It is a no-brainer.

The fundamental questions we must ask ourselves are: Is the Kenyan teacher happy? Does the Kenyan teacher feel valued?

Is the Kenyan teacher happy? Does the Kenyan teacher feel valued? [James Omoro, Standard]

Does the Kenyan teacher feel seen or heard? Does the Kenyan teacher feel as being part of the decision-making process? Do they feel ownership to the process that would warrant them to give it 100 per cent commitment? Does the Kenyan teacher feel adequately appreciated?

If the answers to the above questions are mostly no, then we must ask ourselves the more uncomfortable question of why? And the more brain-racking question of how then do we fix it?

TSC seems to have a vision of the kind of teacher they want in the classroom - well equipped in the latest best practices in pedagogy. The policies are good in themselves, but the manner in which they are seemingly shoved down the throats of teachers, so to speak, could be counterproductive, disastrous even.

I think there is a need for TSC to consider some latest, research-based Human Resource trends on how to attract and keep the best talent in the trade if they are keen on that. 

TSC should have and should be seen to have a human face, show the teacher that they care, they give a listening ear, and support the teacher. They should demonstrate that they are cognizant of the fact that a happy teacher means a happy learner. And they should sincerely work towards this.

Dialogue and consultation is an essential tool in improving the initial and continuous professional development of teachers to ensure high-quality education.

Teachers’ professional development programmes and opportunities should be discussed and designed together with teachers in order to improve their effective initial education, early career support, and continuous professional development.

In Finnish teacher professional development, for instance, Finnish teachers play a role that is often described as ‘teacher leadership’. This means teachers are goal-oriented and they should have a clear vision of school development and high-quality teaching, and moreover, they are able to work collaboratively and in interaction with other teachers towards those goals.

In earlier years, Finnish in-service training was based on training days and short courses. These types of courses are still being offered to teachers, but the trend is towards a more holistic and integrated approach.

The new trend is to see teachers as developers in the whole school community. Collaboration within the school community as well as with external partners, especially parents, is part of teachers’ professional development, and they need support for that, especially at the beginning of their careers.

One of the weakest links in our teacher education has been induction, which is practically missing. [Courtesy]

The Finnish teaching staff is obliged to participate in in-service training with a minimum scope of three workdays outside school hours per school year. This type of continuing training is free of charge for teachers, yet they earn way more than their Kenyan counterparts.

The responsibility for funding such training rests with teachers’ employers. This is one of the pointers to why Finland has the best education system in the world.

The International Baccalaureate® (IB) World schools are another brilliant reference point, where in-service training is taken care of by the school. The trainer teacher is then required to do an in-set workshop for the rest of the faculty. Such strategies have proved to be effective at relatively low costs.

One of the weakest links in our teacher education has been induction, which is practically missing. Young teachers entering the trade think differently, have a very different world view - totally removed from the previous generation, and should be handled differently.

New teachers face so many complicated conditions and demands in the education system, that in spite of their pre-service education/training, they still need support when starting their teaching careers. One of the biggest reforms needed involves providing all teachers with all this support.

But what exactly do this incessant friction, disharmony, and mistrust between teachers and their employers mean for the learner?

Ideally, learners want to see their teacher as a figure of authority – moral and intellectual - in the classroom, who can create a predictable structure for working, react decisively to students’ unacceptable behaviour, and at the same time understand them. But the continuing strife between teachers and their employers doesn’t quite augur well with this idea.

TSC should play a key role in protecting the needs and rights of teachers to professional development. It needs to scrutinise professional issues in the collective bargaining agenda.

Provide professional learning opportunities independently or in partnership with educational institutions.

Make it easy for members to self-organise in order to identify and address their own professional needs.

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