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Money alone does not make teachers happy
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Money alone does not make teachers happy

Teachers should be given more time to focus on their professional development

The success of any society begins with the child. However, the importance of primary school teachers in our country does not translate into popularity of the profession. Two out of three men who have completed primary teacher training do not end up in the classroom. Political parties promise to increase salaries in education and hire more teachers to reduce workload during this election period. However, to make the profession more attractive and improve education, more is needed than just money.

Excellent was not a term used in primary education in the 1970s. However, you could describe my elementary school from that time in such a way. We received education with 48 children in the hamlet of Sluis 13 near Someren. There were also some classmates who couldn’t find a place in other schools. Our teachers Drina, Nelly, and Ankie were dedicated, as well as our teacher Tiny. They worked full-time and knew their students well. They brought out the best in us. Despite the absence of advanced teaching methods, we all turned out well. All children, no matter how different, received sufficient attention.

An abundance of parttimers

If everything in education revolves around attention and stability, one may wonder if it is a good thing that Dutch primary education relies heavily on part-time teachers. The significant difference from when I was in school is that primarily part-time working women have chosen this profession. The Netherlands has the highest percentage of part-time teachers in primary education worldwide, standing at 58.9 percent (OECD 2010). Furthermore, the proportion of women in the field continues to rise, according to the Labour Market Platform for Primary Education. We were at 82.5 percent in 2015.

My suspicion is that the increase in the number of part-time teachers negatively affects the quality of education. I have great respect for teachers, but delivering high-quality work is not always easy when you are a part-time employee. You are faced with numerous tasks and are expected to know the children as well as the full-time teachers. It is possible to function effectively, provided that certain conditions are met: contracts of sufficient duration (minimum of 24 hours), close collaboration, and effective handover of information. However, the time and resources to fulfill these conditions are often lacking.

Dropout masters-to-be

It would be beneficial to have a more balanced representation of men, younger teachers, and full-time professionals in the field, but there is a lack of interest. This is particularly evident among aspiring male teachers, as research from CBS indicates that two out of three men who completed their primary school teacher training do not end up in the classroom. They seek opportunities elsewhere. Those who do choose this noble profession face significant challenges. The absenteeism rate is disproportionately high, resulting in frequent turnover and increased workload, ultimately affecting the well-being of the children. Therefore, the General Education Union advocates for salary increases, a sentiment supported by political parties. They aim to raise salaries and reduce class sizes.

Opportunity to develop yourself

Higher salaries can make the teaching profession more attractive and increase staffing to alleviate the workload in education. However, I believe that it is not sufficient. The appeal of a job depends on various factors. In my experience advising educational organizations, I have noticed that satisfaction, recognition, opportunities for personal development, and future prospects are equally important. I could be mistaken, but that seems to be the primary challenge in primary education. Teachers have limited opportunities for career switches or advancement. The lack of career variety makes the profession less appealing to young people.

Where the field of education falls short as a workplace is in providing opportunities for teachers to develop themselves. This applies to both primary and secondary education, as revealed in a study by the Education Council. The council advised the Dutch Parliament last autumn that the collaboration among teachers needs improvement. According to the Education Council, not enough time has been dedicated to professional development and motivation in recent years. Teachers should engage in more productive discussions to sharpen one another. Unlike in the corporate world, it is not common practice in education to provide regular feedback and learn from one another. As a result, teachers do not bring out the best in each other. This is unfortunate because skills such as communication and giving feedback are more crucial than ever in this century. This holds true for both teachers and students.

Giving rapports to teachers

Compared to the corporate world, the focus on the professional development of teachers in primary education is often neglected. Unlike their students, they certainly don’t receive a report three times a year. That is unfortunate because, in my opinion, it would be beneficial to provide them with more support in their development. If we truly value the importance of the teaching profession, if you take the value of the profession seriously, lagging behind in development should be non-existent. These teachers, together with parents, shape the future of our children. This role is more significant than most products or services offered by companies that place a serious emphasis on personal development and career advancement.

Of course, it can be challenging to determine where a teacher should focus their development. However, it is not impossible and should not be based solely on emotions or feelings. Collegial consultation, open dialogue, structured feedback, and a well-functioning performance appraisal system are not yet fully integrated into primary education. Additionally, objective results, such as trend analyses, can also be considered. These analyses allow schools and parents to monitor the progress of their children. If multiple students’ trend analyses show a decline, it indicates that something needs to be addressed, something that the teachers can improve upon. Sometimes, it becomes evident that a teacher lacks a connection with the students. As a parent, I experienced this firsthand with my daughter. Initially, her class was doing well, but issues arose due to a teacher who, despite her efforts, did not establish a sufficient connection with the students. It was unpleasant for her, but even more so for the children. After numerous attempts and expended energy, the teacher was replaced. From that point on, things steadily improved. 

What are we going to do about it?

We need to be willing to hold teachers accountable for the quality of their work. If there is a lack of connection with the class or with a part-time colleague they work with, why don’t we intervene in a timely manner? This is not only beneficial for the children but also for the teachers themselves. By providing timely support to underperforming teachers, we can empower them and prevent illnesses. We can also ensure that those who perform well are not negatively affected by the shortcomings of their colleagues. However, it is essential that the school genuinely supports teachers by offering courses for improvement, alternative assignments, or other solutions. An honest and well-organized dialogue about performance is indispensable. Otherwise, the cure may be worse than the ailment.

It is time to push the development of education in the right direction to improve education and make it more attractive to talent. I know that funding and regulations limit the room for measures and creating an appealing working environment. But it is possible. This especially applies when schools fall under a larger dome and can benefit from synergy. Together, they can be strong, leverage their strengths, learn from each other, utilize talents broadly, and harmonize matters (such as teaching methods), creating more time and space for personal development. They can also exchange teachers, thereby further stimulating personal and team development. This brings more dynamism between the old and young, men and women, infusing new energy. Actually, these schools have more opportunities than that one small school in Sluis 13. So, the past wasn’t necessarily better…

Written by Robert Bukkems

Robert Bukkems is a partner at iPM Partners. In addition, as a committed parent, he is the chairman of the joint participation council of a federation of schools in Brabant and a member of the participation council of his daughter’s school.

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