Dear Kevin,

You’ve changed.

Have you been possessed by the spirit of failed Liberal policies? What are you doing going on about all this performance pay for teachers and national league tables for schools?

Please stop. It’s not a revolution it’s a rehash.

These “crucial reforms” get blocked at every turn because they are illogical, unfair and unworkable.

Have you been into a classroom lately? And I don’t mean read a fairy story to a select group of Anglo-saxon kids at an inner-west school with cameras snapping.

I mean really heard to the issues facing schools and the teachers in them? Thought about the nuts and bolts logistics of delivering “quality education”? Talked to teachers about how stressed they are with increasing numbers of kids with learning difficulties, Autism Spectrum diagnoses, behavioural disorders, all needing more and more attention? Sometimes it’s hard enough to get kids to sit on their chairs let alone be model students.

I used to teach High School. At one of the NSW’s top selective boys schools. A whole bunch of kids I taught got a UAI of over 99 in their HSC. We had about 80 computers in the whole school. The private schools we compete with have a laptop and wireless net access for every kid. We still kicked arse. Except at Rugby.

Before that I taught at a school in the western suburbs where kids would come out of the detention centre across the road to come to school. Over 10% of the students had learning disabilities, more than 80% were from non-English speaking backgrounds.

How would you compare my teaching at those different schools? How do you get teachers to want to work in the poorly performing schools if they get paid based on their performance? How do you map out the performance of thousands of individuals against one another? Is it fair to base my pay on whether the kids in my year 9 Commerce class decide not to do their homework and fail their exam on personal finance?

When we give $50 textbooks to the kids they come back trashed in their bags, used as a football, a place mat to eat off or put through the washing machine, but you thought it was a good idea to give them a laptop each and let them take them home? Do you have shares in Facebook, MySpace and Warcraft? Because I can tell you, kids will use their laptops for that rather than school work… that’s if they don’t sell them to buy Ritalin.

Quality teaching? Yeah, I agree on that but until you start paying teachers decently as they work their way up the pay scale, you will never keep the good people in the job. People coming out of uni these days usually have double degrees and have to jump though all sorts of hoops to join the NSW Institute of Teachers. After ten years they hit the top of the pay scale and stay there forever, unless they go for promotion… but most leave the system before they get 3 years experience.

I’m now training to be a school counsellor. Now I deal mainly just with the really tricky kids. Trust me, generally it’s not the kids that are the real problem. It’s their parents.

If you’re talking about a revolution, sort out the national child protection issues. Let’s implement policies that create and establish real community support networks. How about helping people realise their dreams, not just by making more apprenticeship places but teaching people how to think, feel, make good decisions, take responsibility for their actions and become involved in their communities. Scrap the baby bonus, pay parents to attend programs which they talk about their experiences and know their neighbours.

Don’t penalise the people at the coalface.

Thanks for reading.

Peter Fray

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