Teachersin Alberta, just like teachers in most places around the world, workin a very highly politicized environment. Past and present provincialgovernment heads have used education to gain political mileage. Theissues of pay, education reforms, and working conditions are some ofthe common issues affecting education matters. Teachers have voicedtheir concerns through their unions and professional organizationsbut little has changed. They feel they have not been consulted inthese reforms which could affect access and quality of education.Again, their professional identity is under threat as a resulted ofbeing not involved in these reforms. The article “Trying to teach: Interim Report of the Committee on Public Education and ProfessionalPractice” summarizes the current situation and contains some viewsfrom teachers. Based on the views expressed in this report, thiscurrent paper seeks to discuss the political, economic and socialenvironment within which teachers work and its impact on the CanadianCharter of freedom and rights in regards to education.
Thereason the Canadian Charter is brought into the equation of teachers’working conditions is because it impacts on the end goal ofeducation. The Charter clearly states that children of Canadiancitizens have a right to education, including all minority groups,whether in English or French, provided out of public funds. Thereforms partly influence this right to education because they addressthe methodology, curriculum content, budgetary allocations, and therole of teachers in education. Mackay (1995) specifically notes theviolation of rights espoused in the Charter through systemicdiscrimination such as through inequitable funding of schooldistricts that usually have dominant ethnic group. Again, theeducations systems perception of teachers as less of professionalsimpacts on these rights specifically to quality education. Failing torecognize teaching as a profession where teachers have expertknowledge in carrying out their duties is a central issue in Albertaneducation reforms, which has resulted to a debate on what constitutesa profession.
Thisdebate on whether teaching is a profession just like any other hasbeen going on for close to 100 years or so. On one hand, teachers andother scholars feel that teaching is a profession just like law ormedicine while on the other hand are government technocrats who feelteachers are not professionals and thus knowingly or unknowinglycreate difficult working environment that hamper professionalism. Oneof the scholars who weigh in on this issue is Wotherspoon (2013), whoargues that education falls short of other traditional professionssuch as law and medicine in several ways. This assessment relies ontwo early sociological theories: trait model andstructural-functionalism model. The trait model asserts that aprofession should (1) consist of a skill based on abstract knowledge(2) require prolonged training and education e.g. universityeducation (3) regulated entry based on competency testing (4) haveformal organization (5) have adherence to a set code of conduct thatbinds all and (6) offer an altruistic social service (section 1)
However,these six traits are not based on any theory. The use of medicine andlaw as the basic units of ‘true profession’ upon which otherprofessions are judged against is not justifiable. There are emergingprofessions in the modern world, which do not necessarily possess thesix said traits. The traits do not necessarily portray what a typicalprofession should be like but are rather modeled to fit in theassumed basic professions of medicine and law. Runte (1995)therefore, suggests that having these unique characteristics may bethe exception rather than the rule. Such a situation leads to thequestion: should teachers develop their internal definition ofprofessional or should they allow one to be imposed on them?
Theformer is more plausible than the latter. Beijaard, Meijer andVerloop (2004) assert that teachers have their own professionalidentity. This identity is “…carved out of, and shaped by,situations knowledge that is constructed and reconstructed as welive out our stories and retell and relive them through processes”(Clandinin, 1992, p. 125 cited ibid, p. 123). Therefore,professionalization of teaching or the work of a teacher equates to aprocess that seeks to have teachers recognized as professionals bytheir own terms. Sockett (1993) say that pushing for an internallygenerated definition of teaching as a profession like any otherrestores lost professional authority of teachers. Alternatively, itcould also be a response to neo-liberal and neo-conservativespressure that somehow undermines teachers’ theoretical knowledge byimposing other policies developed at the top level without consultingteachers.
Consequently,some teachers are not comfortable implementing decisions of othersand being blamed when these decisions fail (section 3). They reckonthat some of the reforms being initiated are not necessarilyeffective in solving current challenges facing the education systembut are rather geared towards showing the public that "somethingwas being done" (Trying to teach n.d.). Apparently, teachers arenot sure whose interests the reforms are serving because neitherstudents nor parents or even teachers have requested reforms (ibid).These solutions are thus taking away the professional role ofteachers of applying their knowledge and experiences in addressingpressing problems in the classroom. This equates toproletarianization which Wotherspoon (2013, p. 153) defines as a“process in which workers lose control over core aspects of theirwork, or in one in which self-sufficient workers are replaced byemployees in subordinate positions.” For the teachers in Alberta,proletarianization has been taking place through “designing lessonplans, grading students, keeping records of student attendance andprogress, and following rules regarding student discipline” (ibid,2004, p. 146).
Naturally,this amounts excessive control of Albertan teachers in Alberta. Suchcontrol also contradicts what the Canadian Charter of rights andfreedoms says regarding teachers and teaching. The Charter clearlystates that teachers must assume a leadership role ‘in thedevelopment of attitudes which foster a society in which all peoplemay participate equally with equal access to opportunity’”(section 2). Contradiction emerges because proletarianization deniesteachers the resources and space to decide what is right for societyand instill the same in students. The system assumes teachers have nomoral bearing and policy makers have to decide what it morally rightto be taught to students. Interestingly this happens in an educationsystem that looks forward to bringing up ethical citizens as part ofachieving social change.
Teachersact as agents of social change in various ways. One of the socialchanges pursued by the government of Alberta and Canadian federalgovernment at large pertains to the inclusion of Aborigines into themainstream society. While teachers are supposed to assume authorityin the classroom on inclusion, it is impossible to achieve this goalif teachers are not allowed to own the process and manage it at theclassroom level. The over domineering impact of the current educationreforms where teacher autonomy is not guaranteed, then the messagecommunicated through the hidden curriculum is that teachers are notin charge (Bascia & Osmond, 2013). Again, the Albertan educationsystem perceives that all teachers should address learning through acommon world view irrespective of the individual teacher’sworldview and that of learners which is largely influenced bycultural background (Mackay 1995). Therefore, the supposed inclusionexcludes teachers and some learners. Teachers can thus fail tocontrol the learning process in the classroom and deliver socialchange.
Onthe other hand, governments feel that teachers should be their agentsto advance their policies. Taylor (2001) cites the case of variousgovernments that have used education systems to influence publicknowledge and perceptions. Two good examples are Germany’s Nazigovernment and the Fascist government in Italy. In Nazi Germany,education was used a tool to spread Nazism where teachers were usedas vessels to deliver these government ideologies. Schools were usedas introduce ideas of nationalism and anti-Semitism was encouraged.The same case is being applied by the Albertan government. Theintroduction of integration and assimilation as education policiesseems to have their history in the assimilation policies adopted bypast governments that led to the creation of the infamous residentialschools to cater to native Indians.
Thegovernment of Alberta has applied two approaches to achievegovernment objectives in education. The first is to have teachers as“recipientsand implementers of the change initiatives of others.” The secondapproach “features teachers as leaders of prescribed reformefforts” (Lukacs,2008).Both approaches view teachers as incapable of implementing change inthe classroom independent of traditionally school leaders. Theseviews also portray teachers as only capable of leading and drivingexternally driven reforms. For teachers, the question is- areteachers capable of driving and leading internally-driven change andreforms in the classroom and the larger school? To answer such aquestion, a brief look at the history of education shows thatteachers have in the past agitated changes in education matters tosuit modern issues. Teachers have worked through collaborations andresearch to create a raft of recommendations that are in most casesevidence -based and not politically driven.
Inlight of this history, teachers acknowledge “there is no doubt thatimportant changes are taking place they have a major impact, andtheir consequences must be examined and assessed” (Trying toteach). However, they are not satisfied with the role they play inachieving this change. Teachers feel that this is part of theproletarianization process in which teachers are being turned intotechnicians and denied the right and space to apply theirprofessional training and experience to respond student needs.Decisions are made at the ministry and policy maker levels andteachers are not consulted as they are mere implementers of thesedecisions (ibid.)
Theeducation system in Alberta has been highly politicized. Teachers andstudents have been at the losing end of the reforms being undertakenin the province as being used by policy makers and the provincesleadership to score political mileage. According to some of thepeople opposed to the education reforms especially in the newconstructivism approach (Staples 2014). Teachers feel that thegovernment has completely ignored them in education reforms and theyhave thus pulled back to their professional associations to claimback their professional status which is being threatened day by dayby government policy changes. Teachers feel they have been convertedinto mere technicians whose role is to implement decisions andpolicies made by the top policy makers. This corporate approach named‘managerialism’ uses a hierarchical top-down approach whereeducation reforms are made at the top and the changes are expected totrickle down to the entire system. This approach does not work andinstead of reforming education, it is “deforming” it (Davis2012). In other cases, a managerial approach to educationproletarianizes teaching into a “blue-collar” job best rewardedby relatively lower wages (Graham & Jahnukainen 2011). Lowerwages create additional serious problems for the system.
Thebest solution is to depoliticize education reforms which can bepreeminently achieved by engaging all stakeholders. Teachersacknowledge that parents have been most vocal in calling foreducation reforms in Alberta. However, while they are crucial ininstigating for reforms, their input in actual reforms anddecision-making has been ignored more often than not (Bascia &Osmond, 2013). The same case applies to teachers who are supposed toimplement the reforms but their input is never considered. To thepolicymakers, teachers are just there to feed to learners whateverthey are given. In “Inspiring Education: A Dialogue WithAlbertans”, the author offers an alternative approach that freeseducation reforms from excessive politics (Davis 2012). This approachcalls for dialogue with all stakeholders. They include governmentpolicy makers, teachers, teachers unions, school administrators,parents and most of all students. This way, the interests of allpeople are considered.
Mostimportantly, the interests of students as provided for in theCanadian Charter are addressed. The Charter recognizes funding as acritical factor in protecting the right to education for all (Mackay1995). Current and previous reforms have touched on budgetaryallocations to education. With the austerity being widelypopularized, education has suffered. These austerity measures areonly targeting public schools through smaller budgets. For instance,the 2014/15 financial year, Albertan education budget was slashed bya staggering $150 million (Green, 2014). On the other hand, the richare receiving generous subsidies to send their children to eliteprivate schools. Such a situation directly denies children,especially from poor backgrounds, the right to receive educationeither in English or French in the country as less money affects thequality of education. Additionally, these reforms have led to ahigher number of students per teacher thereby increasing the workloadfor teachers. With increased workload, students have decreasedindividual attention from teachers. Moreover, introduction ofexternal examinations and increased frequency of tests exertincreased pressure on students to perform.
Nonetheless,some reforms have been beneficial. For instance, integration as apolicy in the entire Canadian society is commendable and highlyencouraged. The same approach is being encouraged in educationthrough inclusion whereby students of different needs are treated asone by teachers. The Centre for Inclusive Education indicates that aninclusive school or classroom environment is characterized by certaintraits. They include: “a supportive environment, positiverelationships, feelings of competence and opportunities toparticipate” (Spect, 2012, p. 2). To achieve this, there is needempower teachers politically to make their own decisions in theclassroom and also have significant control in the management andadministration of schools and the entire school system. However,teachers are concerned about some of these policies such asintegration when they are combined with others.
Forexample integration, constructivism and standardized testing havecontradictory expectations. Integration as a stand-alone policy iswell supported by teachers. By integration, teachers must acknowledgethat individual students have different skills, interests and,abilities and thus they must structure learning to fit the abilitiesof individual students. Constructivism on the other hand as a policycalls for inspiring education approach that is based on discovery andinquiry. This approach calls for an individualized approach tolearning while standardized testing assumes that learners are of thesame abilities. Teachers are thus clearly frustrated by such lack ofa clear education policy in Alberta.
Theoverall situation is that the education department has put in placehurdles with a smaller budget and restrictive policy reforms thathave complicated the social, political and economic environmentwithin which teachers operate in. Students are poised to lose greatlywhere enough resources are not available to implement these changesor where the reforms do not serve their interests. Ordinarily,management experts reckon that change in any organization impliesadditional costs incurred through the implementation of changes.Unfortunately, the department of education of Alberta will have todefy such common knowledge and implement change with a smallerbudget. Teachers will have to learn to do more with less. Part of thedecreased input desired by teachers is government control andoverbearing education department that wants to dictate alldevelopments in the classroom. This way the rights to access andquality education will be retained for the benefit of all.
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