World Teachers’ Day, held on 5 October each year since 1994, is an annual event to reflect on the progress of teachers.
But in many countries, including the United States, the occupational status of teachers has declined over the past decade.
For example, studies in Britain, Japan and Hong Kong show a lack of teacher autonomy and public trust in teachers, leaving teachers feeling powerless and demoralized. Job satisfaction among teachers has also worsened in the US, where teacher education itself has become the target of policymakers who think it requires higher standards and more state control.
As a researcher who studies teacher improvement initiatives around the world, I have observed that very few reforms do what they were designed to do, which is to improve the quality of teachers’ work and their professional standing. To do.
With colleagues from the US, Sweden and South Korea, I researched teacher-centered policies in four Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark) and four East Asian countries (Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and South Korea) from 1995 to 2020. did.
All eight countries are stable, prosperous democracies whose school systems are generally regarded as solid – even exemplary – educational systems. In other words, one cannot expect them to be concerned about their teachers. Yet over the 25-year period we studied, these countries collectively passed 56 national policies aimed specifically at improving teacher career development, some part of education or training.
Sweden was the most active with 12 reforms, while Finland made only two.
Sometimes these reforms didn’t really help the teachers. In fact, some of the reforms actually reduced the quality of the national teaching force.
What we’ve found is likely to work when it comes to new teacher policies.
Comprehensive teacher policies address at least three key areas: recruitment and training, recruitment and placement, and professional development. This is important in addressing significant problems such as teacher shortages, where focusing solely on recruitment and training has not worked, at least in the U.S.
However, most of the eight countries in our study have passed policies that target only one of these phases. Some nations addressed more than one, but the reforms were often inconsistent. And, these nations were also influenced by international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, resulting in contradictory reforms that undermined the effectiveness of national systems.
Denmark was the only nation that specifically targeted recruitment by attempting to recruit teachers from the best college graduates. Sweden was the only country to have passed a policy on teacher recruitment vaguely. They started “fast track” programs that prepare immigrants with teacher qualifications to teach in Swedish schools. These programs were spread across six universities across the country that would encourage graduates to be outside the Stockholm area.
Instead, countries focused on policies that set standards for teacher certification, better working conditions, and expanded opportunities for professional development. While these are important areas, they do not remove significant barriers to recruitment and distribution. Merely setting standards does not guarantee that qualified teachers will be available where they are needed. For example, because of shortages in some subjects, teachers are often hired to teach courses they are not qualified to teach – called “out-of-field” teaching.
Despite all teacher-centric reforms, access to qualified teachers remains a major source of educational inequality in the world today.
Pay attention to the real needs of teachers
There is international consensus that effective teacher education and development involves providing many opportunities for teachers to practice and reflect on actual teaching practices. This means that professional development should be integrated into local schools where local practitioners can identify the problems they face while working with experts to identify solutions. Yet some of the policies we analyzed pointed to this as a goal.
One example that involved teachers was the OSAAVA program in Finland, which supports projects where teachers and schools can identify what expertise they already have, areas that need more professional development And how to sustain this professional growth over time.
In addition to focusing on real problems, good professional development supports collaboration between teachers, universities, and the communities where they work. In most industries, professional development is carried out by practitioners expert in the field. However, the professional development of teachers is mostly done by academics in universities. Achieving effective professional development often requires improving the relationship between universities and schools.
Involve teachers in the process
In both Nordic and East Asian countries, governments often pass reforms related to teacher professional development by setting standards, but some governments involve teachers in the process. It undermines the professional status and autonomy of teachers. It also means that professional development is less likely to meet the needs of teachers.
In Japan, in the early 2000s, the government took a teacher-led form of professional development, lesson study, and integrated it into essential professional development. This undermines the support that research has shown to be essential for effective teacher learning. In 2017, I interviewed teacher educators who complained about a long-term decline in the quality of lesson studies. In fact, the lesson study sessions I saw in 2017 had less good attendance and lacked the collaborative support I saw when researching Japanese schools in the 1980s and 1990s.
In contrast, the “teach less, learn more” reform passed in Singapore in 2005 allowed schools to hire more staff so that teachers had more time to study how to better present lessons or Curriculum to be reviewed and redesigned.
why it matters
Decades of scientific research confirms that quality teachers improve student achievement. At the same time we see the rise of authoritarian regimes and anti-democratic movements around the world. Education has a democratic effect, especially in poor countries. I believe that, now more than ever, every nation should support teachers as they provide the education and critical thinking skills that children need to cope with undemocratic feelings and solve critical problems of the future. will be required.
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