I want to draw a parallel between what I believe constitutes a professional teacher and that of a professional rugby player. Why rugby? Most other professional sports are equally as relevant here but I have chosen rugby because that’s the sport I know best, and all of you I think, understand rugby as well.
In the modern day of professional rugby three important attributes stand out that differentiate the professional era from the days of amateurism; the level of skill and fitness has increased to levels unprecedented, professional ethics has become a norm, and commitment to improvement is a requirement of every player.
New skills in defence play and attack are evolving and perfected. Players are required to be more active and interactive with their captain and with each other during play. Gone are the days when the pattern of play was very predictive and at times passive or inactive where players were coached to perform specific roles only. For instance, a winger would always be at the flank of defence and attack, and should not move away from his line of position on the left or right and expected to run a straight line to the corner to score. As a result, a winger may get to touch the ball on one or two occasions only during the whole game. Rugby became boring to watch! It was fast losing its appeal as many followers turned to rugby league for its entertainment value. The net result was an international game losing financially. A new framework had to be developed for Rugby Union. The era of amateurism had come to an end.
Today, players are expected to be more active and interactive looking always for the ball and becoming involved in the game irrespective of the positions they play. We now see forwards joining the backline and backs joining the forwards as part of a new strategy to gain advantage over the opposing team. Professional rugby has become more sophisticated and technical requiring players to think and to strategise on their feet as well as being able to read the game as it progresses. New rules to make the game faster have developed. Players who are passive will almost always be dropped from the team. Coaches and administrators are required to be strategic thinkers and marketing experts.
Professional rugby players are also required to carry themselves in ways that reflect and promote good behavior and standing on and off the field. It is not uncommon to find players facing the wrath of the bosses or even the court because of unbecoming behaviour. Non- compliance is often punished.
Commitment for improvement is another hallmark of a professional rugby player. Professional development through skill development clinics, team building, communication strategies, public engagement etc. are efforts to improve the players’ and coaches’ understanding of each other and how to engage their fans in a positive way. Training is also provided to improve the players’ profile and public image. Furthermore, infrastructure and necessary resources are made available to ensure the attainment of the desired professional outcomes. Of course with professionalism in rugby comes the reward of higher pay, recognition and other benefits.
In the time frame of about ten years, the full professionalization of rugby has taken hold and is now firmly rooted. In education however, educators have yearned to be recognized as professionals for generations. But the current wave for professionalization started in the mid-1980s when the standard of education worldwide was not making progress in terms of high achievement expected of students.
Like professional rugby, education has had to rethink how “excellent teachers” could be produced. Let’s start with the training of teachers at our higher learning institutions.
The quality of graduands is dependent on the quality of their instruction, and quality of instruction depends on the quality of their teachers. Along with a strong content knowledge and strong curriculum, innovative, active and interactive ways of teaching must be developed. Strong professionals continuing development strategies with the necessary resources for in-servicing must be in place. Teachers must interact more with one another, with educational leaders and the community they serve to bring about continuous improvement and new strategies to enhance the teaching-learning process.
Emphasis must be placed on helping teachers and educators to carry themselves with exemplary conduct from aesthetics to language and behavior. Such attributes are a reflection on one’s classroom, school, community and educational system.
Achieving excellence in educational outcomes and in particular the teachers, is a giant step towards the professionalization of the teaching profession and a merit for higher remuneration and better condition of work. What do we do with under-performing or unprofessional teachers? I will not suggest we drop them as in rugby, but rather they should be recycled through appropriate professional development and re-evaluated. Teachers are increasingly coming under the microscope for all the wrong reasons. Parents and students are demanding value for money in the midst of increased exorbitant fees in Universities and some schools. Furthermore, many parents are having to pay extra tuition outside the school for their children particularly in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. Many students in the Pacific region are dropping out of school because they find school boring and irrelevant. Yes, students do talk openly about low quality teaching and unprofessional attitudes of some teachers.
There have been cases in Britain, Canada and Australia where Universities have been taken to court by students for teaching an irrelevant curriculum which did not lead into jobs. Will this kind of protest happen in Samoa? Will it happen in Tonga? Will it happen in the Solomon Islands or in any other island in the region for that matter? Extreme! Maybe, but it can happen!
Teaching like the days of amateur rugby is losing its appeal as a profession. It is difficult to recruit high achieving students to teaching due mainly to negative perception of the profession. Change is needed. Role models are needed. The era of amateurism in education should end sooner rather than later.
That is why the efforts by the Commonwealth Secretariat and you the educators from around the region is of paramount importance. This workshop I understand is part of a series of workshops and conferences conducted by the Commonwealth Secretariat as a result of the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Ministers of Education Meeting held in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia. The most recent conference was held here in Apia in April 2010. One of the themes that emerged out of this conference and many others in the region as a common challenge facing member countries, is the need to achieve global education goals with the issue of quality leaders and teachers being at the forefront of discussions and decisions made. This workshop therefore is very crucial as it will provide the necessary professional support and platform for member countries to deliberate on and develop a common understanding on a Professional Standards Framework for Teachers.
You will over the course of this week be sharing and discussing views and innovative ideas to help the formulation of teachers and educational leaders’ professional framework.
As one unknown author stated “WE ALL ARE MIDWIVES TO OUR OWN REALITY”.
(Speech written and presented by Magele Mauiliu Magele, to open the Forum Education Meeting in Apia 2012)