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Teachers at the centre of a revitalised education system

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In the lead up to International Day for Education, the Teacher Task Force spoke to Michelle Codrington-Rogers, who is a secondary school citizenship teacher in Oxford, and the President of the United Kingdom NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers).

In a few days’ time it will be International Day for Education, and the United Nations will be calling to strengthen and revitalize education systems, and recognize teachers as frontline workers. How do you think governments can support teachers in 2021?

Teachers and educators have held together education systems for decades. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, the glue and sticky tape that teachers have been using to hold together education systems has become very evident. Which means that, after the pandemic, we need to be talking about giving teachers back the professional respect they deserve and recognising that we aren't glorified babysitters. Teachers are highly trained, highly qualified professionals. Governments need to help rebuild that trust with the profession. They need to empower us with the ability to make the decisions that impact on the students and young people that we have in front of us, and trust us to use our own professional judgement to provide the best education and life choices that we can for the next generation.

 

The kind of teacher leadership that you are talking about really became apparent during the pandemic. Can you give us some examples of teacher and school leadership that you saw thriving in 2020?

What was amazing during the pandemic was to see groups of teachers coming together, to pool resources and help each other through creating professional spaces to work together. There are many teachers out there who are thinking of new and innovative ways to engage young people and students. In the UK, the Oak Academy was a great example of this – it was made by teachers, for teachers, who came together and said, let’s share our resources. Another example is a group that formed on social media, allowed teachers from literally all over the world to come together and share ideas - for example how to use Bitmojis in your online learning spaces. What is interesting is that, on a daily basis, we don’t usually have the opportunity to share ideas even with our own colleagues within our school. The pandemic has given us that space again, where we can collaborate and inspire each other.

It also means that we can learn from each other – I honestly believe that the best schools and the best learning environments are where we are all learning from each other. The best teachers, the most inspirational ones, are those who are willing to acknowledge that we’ve always got more to learn.

 

One of the areas in which you and your colleagues have been showing leadership is your work in decolonising the curricula. Can you tell us about this work and the challenges you have faced?

I am first generation British and my family is originally from the Caribbean. So I grew up knowing my identity and my family’s background and history, but also conscious that my parents and my grandparents were taught British history. This is true for millions of people around the world – that they are being taught a version of history which doesn’t reflect them nor the experiences of peoples who were colonised at some stage of their past.

We've been campaigning in many different guises, with students, in schools, universities and in communities, to decolonise the curricula. The events of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement have helped show the importance of re-educating people, especially about how important it is to understand systemic discrimination and prejudice. And it’s not only about history, it’s about teaching how this history has led to where we are today, in the relationships and societies we have today, in a multicultural world and as global citizens. It also means that many teachers have also had to learn about this, as they themselves had been taught a much narrower version of history.

I'm so proud that Education international, during their last global world congress, passed a motion in support of this. Which means that we have teachers and educators from across the world, speaking about what that ‘decolonising’ means in their countries. It means that people from across the world, from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa are becoming visible in their own curricula and in the history being taught in their own countries.

This change has to happen at all levels – among educators and students and communities. In our case, it is very much the fruit of leadership taken by teachers and schools. But we also hope that eventually this will lead to systemic change at the national level, adopted by governments.

 

Recently you participated in a discussion on the Future of Teachers, organised by UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative. What do you think will be the main challenges for the teaching profession in the next five years?

The challenges faced by teachers are going to be political, economic and social. From the political point of view, teachers are going to need to be at the heart of conversations – and even struggles – to define what is education about and what it is for. Teachers and teaching are at the centre of those discussions, as there is a tension between traditional and new digital ways of learning. As teachers, we are going to need to be part of helping re-define what this means. We can’t lose sight that teaching is a human interaction built on relationships, and that AI and digital learning can’t replace that.

From an economic point of view, we know that every country’s public purses have been hit by the pandemic. For example, in the UK teachers will not be receiving any pay increase, even after 10 years of austerity. In many countries, teachers are financially way behind where they should be as a profession – and they need to be able to at least pay their bills. So we are faced with a situation where teacher salaries are stagnant, but the stress and workload are increasing. There is a point where teaching as a profession is going to become less and less attractive and there will be less and less people willing to become teachers.

Lastly, teachers are going to be expected to help repair the connections and bonds which have been broken by lockdowns and school closures. Schools aren’t just an academic space; they are also a space in which children and young people are nurtured, and citizens are forged. But to do this teachers and educators are going to need professional respect and trust. What is positive, is seeing how many young people today are politically and socially aware, and conscious of their power and ability to change the world. We have the next generation of social activists who are going to make our world better if not for themselves, then definitely for their children and the next generations. So, I am hopeful - hopeful that education will be a space for us to move the world in that positive direction.