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Familiar Refrains

Teachers are tired of starting new school improvement measures that are quickly replaced with newer ones. They feel as if they don't have the financial resources they need to provide the educational services the public expects. And they're overwhelmed with duties once reserved for social workers.

For More Info
Read the executive summary of the Teacher Workoads Project, or read the full report, from the ACT Branch of the Australian Education Union. (The full report requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

Those refrains could have emerged from focus groups in the United States. But they came instead from teachers in Australia.

Results from the focus groups did not come as a surprise to officials of the Australian Capital Territory branch of the Australian Education Union, which represents 156,000 educators from pre-K through higher education.

The research "provides an authentic snapshot of the state of the teaching profession in the [public] sector in the territory," Clive Haggar, the secretary of the ACT branch of the national union, said in an e-mail.

The ACT branch, which covers the region surrounding Canberra, commissioned the study as part of its Teacher Workloads Project, a research effort to inform the union as it prepares to bargain for a new contract when the current one expires next August.

As part of a recent set of measures, Australian officials have granted greater authority to principals in the form of school-based management. While such changes in the United States are intended to give principals and teachers freedom from a centralized bureaucracy, in Australia they have resulted in teachers' taking on a greater share of the administrative burden, the report says.

Many teachers say they are being forced to handle "an array of tasks to keep their schools going," according to the report, "Too Much With Too Little: Shift and Intensification in the Work of ACT Teachers." Such changes undermine "schools' capacity to focus on the learning needs of students," it adds.

At the same time, national school improvement efforts have shifted directions so many times in recent years that teachers say they are reluctant to accept the current fads. "Teachers are 'reform fatigued,' and skeptical that any new reforms—including those to which teachers agree in principle—will prove viable," the report says.

To top off the strain, teachers are playing a new role in "pastoral care," the focus-group report found, because of "the increasing needs and struggles faced by families."

"The emotional health of teachers is clearly at risk," Mr. Barker wrote in his e-mail.

—David J. Hoff [email protected]

Vol. 22, Issue 4, Page 11

Published in Print: September 25, 2002, as International

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