Global dialogue in support of the teaching profession

published 22 March 2018 updated 18 April 2018

The 8th annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, on 22-23 March is, once again, a good opportunity to discuss the teaching profession between those who represent teachers and those who represent governments.

Discussions will be based on earlier summits and on recognition that the teaching profession is at the heart of the mission of education.

“Schools at the Centre of their Communities”, “Pedagogies for the Future”, and “Teachers well-being, confidence, and effectiveness” are the three themes of the summit.

Schools and Communitiesunderlines the ties between public schools and the communities that they serve. Schools are part of the community and have a very important contribution to make, often in challenging areas. These include social cohesion, tolerance, integration and strengthening active citizenship. Quality education for students in all schools, including the most disadvantaged ones, requires development of and respect for the teaching profession.

Pedagogies for the Future will be a discussion about innovations by teachers and not a simple focus on technology. There have been situations in which the work of the teaching profession has been influenced and distracted by the “oversight” or “tracking” capacity of technology. It is too often driven by technical possibilities or even the interests of vendors and a handful of giant internet companies. This discussion is an opportunity to move towards placing the technology in the context of tools to be used to enhance the profession. Such a sensible approach would be helpful in the current situation as well as for a future with the expansion of the use of artificial intelligence.

Information and communication technology (ICT) influences the learning environment as the internet becomes a growing source of information. There have been problems with the accuracy and quality of the information supplied via the web. The sheer volume of often unverified information available makes critical thinking even more central to education as students need to be able to filter information and make independent judgements.

Teacher well-being, confidence, efficacy, and effectiveness is an important new area for summit discussions. It is critical because the issues have great impact on the exercise of the profession of teaching and, therefore, on students and the quality of education.

Enhancing teacher well-being requires identifying factors that have negative effects and, to the extent possible, removing them. It also means creating a positive, supportive learning and teaching environment.

Many long-standing professional and working conditions issues have been sources of stress, for example, class sizes, lack of preparation time and support. There are also stress factors in some approaches to reform. If the school environment becomes more competitive and less collaborative or if teachers are placed under pressure by mis-guided evaluation processes, teaching and learning are often victims.

In an Education International (EI) survey on the status of teachers, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) made that point:“First, competitive culture has been introduced to the teaching profession…like merit-bonus payment, standardised testing, teacher evaluation systems… Government policy makers wanted to show...a big effort to bring innovative change among teachers, but it has resulted in no positive fruit. Rather, those policies have played a role to break the cooperative culture among teachers. Second, students’ interest in learning has declined because of teaching to the test. It has brought about students’ bad behaviour that teachers can’t control…”

A major 2011 survey under the auspices of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), EI’s European Region, conducted with the participation of more than 5,000 teachers in 30 European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, showed several sources of stress, many of which were job related.

In the area of job satisfaction, the survey revealed that the most important factor was “trust and fairness”. That is an area that should be able to be effectively addressed and improved. In many countries cooperative efforts are being made to identify and reduce the impact of that lack of confidence and other stress risk factors.

Stress for teachers is not inevitable. In the right environment, teaching is an enormously satisfying profession. What is more rewarding than making a difference for a child, building understanding, social skills, and development? Supporting teachers and enabling them to fully exercise their profession will improve the quality of education, boost the status of teachers and help attract and retain talented and motivated people to the profession.

The International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) shows the irreplaceable value of serious exchanges among representative parties. The shared values of governments and teachers inspire us all. When applied to policy discussions, they can build confidence and produce results for students, but also lay the foundations for fair, free, and decent societies.

The presentation on "New challenges and opportunities facing the teaching profession in public education" given by EI's consultant John Bangs at ISTP is available here