The value of teachers

…telling to the generation to come… Psalm 78:4

Did your teachers have a strong influence in your life? Do you value the teachers you have had? Is the teaching profession valued in our society today? Should greater value be attached?

What image does “teacher” conjure up in your mind? Maybe a classroom of bubbly, energetic, boisterous boys and girls with the challenge for the teacher to quieten them and get them to focus on numbers, writing and experiments? Or maybe an opportunity for the teacher to make a difference in the lives of many children, as they enter various pathways in the real world? Is your image tending towards negative or positive?

Every year in Australia, there are news stories about teacher burnout, teachers leaving the profession, teacher stress and teacher shortages. An ABC Opinion news article at the commencement of school in February entitled Why do teachers leave? identifies the fact that many teachers are leaving the profession or didn’t even commence after obtaining a teaching qualification.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that 53% of those qualified to teach don’t actually work in education.

A recent ABC Nightlife program featured the topic Is Australia suffering from teacher burnout? and identified the fact that teachers are undervalued in our society. Apparently, 30% of teachers quit in the first 5 years because of added pressures and burnout.

So how do we value and recognise teachers? We explore some of the results of an international teachers survey as well as an international activity for promoting teacher careers, and then focus on the value of teachers from a reformed perspective in particular.

Need for teachers and promoting the profession

There are many teachers in the world!  In 2016 UNESCO estimated that there were more than 83 million teachers of which 29 million are primary school teachers. One of the top United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to provide every child in the world with quality education by 2030.

But there are many children who are currently out of school – an estimated 260 million. In order to give quality education, the world needs qualified teachers. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates a further 68.8 million (24.4 million primary + 44.4 million secondary) teachers are needed. This need for teachers is also apparent in reformed schools. Consider, for example, the adverts for teachers needed in reformed schools in Canada and Australia. Some schools have also had committees running campaigns to promote a teaching career among students. We need good quality reformed teachers to teach our children and the generations to come.

However, it appears that teachers are not always valued or perceived to be of value. This may be a reason behind teacher shortages and also the various campaigns to promote the teaching profession. The average teacher spends 786 hours per year in the classroom, which is a long time to spend with our children; a good reason to value teachers!


The average teacher spends 786 hours per year in the classroom, which is a long time to spend with our children; a good reason to value teachers!


This article first explores the results of a survey conducted among a subset of teachers internationally. In particular, the Australian results reveal a perception that teaching is not valued in the community, although teachers themselves are satisfied and get good value from their jobs.

In order to promote the role of teachers, UNESCO set up an annual World Teacher’s Day. This article outlines what this day is about and a recent focus for this day.

Finally, this article examines the responsibilities of teachers and how this informs and highlights the value of teachers. In fact, teaching goes beyond those qualified professionals; parents and others have a clear role here. Given our reformed perspective, we can be thankful that, indeed, teachers are of great value.

International study of lower secondary teachers

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) of lower secondary teachers (Years 7-10) in 2013 (after the first survey in 2008). This is the first international survey program to focus on the learning environment and working conditions of teachers. It compares 34 countries around the world to provide analysis and information to inform decision and policy making.

In Australia, more than 2000 teachers and 149 principals were sampled across 149 government and independent schools. Some interesting survey results for Australia (the overall 2013 TALIS survey results can be found here ) include:

  • Although the average age of Australian teachers of 43.4 is similar to the TALIS average, the number of teachers 50 years old and above at 37.1% is higher than almost every other country. By implication, this means that younger teachers (ie. below 30) are relatively few at 15.7 % (which is a 2.5% decrease from 2008).
  • Australian teachers rank well in terms of qualifications, receiving mentoring support, undertaking professional development, receiving teacher appraisal & feedback, etc.
  • On average, Australian teachers work 42.7 hours per week (ranked 7th highest internationally) spent as 7% on administrative duties, 14.5% on classroom discipline and 78.1% on actual teaching and learning; this is a comparatively high amount of time spent on non-teaching tasks.
  • 90% of Australian teachers are satisfied with their job which was an increase from 82% in 2008. 88.6% (77.4% TALIS average) said that advantages of being a teacher clearly outweighed the disadvantages, 81.1% said they would still work as a teacher if they had to decide again, and only 7.2% (9.5% TALIS average) said they regret their decision to become a teacher.
  • Only 38.5% of Australian teachers believe that the teaching profession is valued in society.

It is interesting to note that overall, Australian teachers are well qualified, love their jobs and receive good support. It was noted in the survey report that job satisfaction increased where less time was spent keeping order in the classroom, there were fewer student behavioural problems in the class, student-teacher relationships were strong, staff had the opportunity to participate in school decisions, and appraisals and genuine feedback were provided to staff.

Although the survey questions are based on a very secular foundation, it would be interesting to see how reformed school teachers would have fared among the results.

Recognition of teachers

In an effort to recognise the important role of teachers, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. Some of the reasons for drawing up this recommendation reads as follows:

…Recognizing the essential role of teachers in educational advancement and the importance of their contribution to the development of man and modern society,
Concerned to ensure that teachers enjoy the status commensurate with this role…
(Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, 5 October 1966)

This recommendation addresses the qualifications, continuing professional development, employment conditions, rights and responsibilities, conditions for effective teaching and learning, among other things, of teachers in public and private schools for all stages of schooling to the completion of secondary education. The purpose is to provide awareness, guidelines and recognition to inform educational policies and conditions at an international level.

This recommendation was complemented in 1997 by the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel  in an effort to specifically address teachers at the higher education level (eg. colleges and universities). Not only are there differences in the demands of higher education teaching, but higher education lecturers and professors play an important role to support all levels of education including primary and secondary, through transmitting and producing knowledge and research to enhance teaching methods and materials.

More information can be found at UNESCO’s website (news, 18 Oct 2017) Celebrating Higher-Education Teaching Personnel

World Teacher’s Day

In 1994, UNESCO established World Teachers’ Day to be held on an annual basis to recognise the role of teachers in society. World Teachers’ Day is celebrated internationally on the first Friday in October. Some countries may change this date for practical reasons. Because this day usually falls on school holidays, Australia instead celebrates the day on the last Friday in October. The United States celebrates this day as Teacher Appreciation Day in the first week of May each year.

Last year’s World Teachers’ Day was earmarked for 5 October 2017. It had as theme “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers”. The year 2017 also commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Recommendation and an international conference was especially held for this purpose at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris.

The “Teaching in Freedom” theme recognises the right for teachers to choose the most appropriate teaching methods and approaches and be able to teach in safety and security. The reality is that many countries exert a strong influence (sometimes coercion) to teach particular content and in a certain way, and that many countries are also politically unstable or embroiled in conflict which puts teachers (and their tasks) at risk.

The theme “Empowering Teachers” refers to appropriate training and support for teachers, having professional autonomy in developing and delivering curricula, and being able to contribute knowledge to the teaching profession. The reality is that not all countries provide sufficient autonomy and support to empower teachers leading to poor education quality.

More information on World Teacher’s Day and the 2017 events can be found at the UNESCO website at World Teacher’s Day – 5 October 2017. World Teacher’s Day will next be held on Friday 5 October 2018. Some of the Australian states will celebrate it on Friday 26th October.

Responsibility of teachers

Teachers have a very important role in the lives, present and future, of children. This is recognised in the establishment of World Teacher’s Day and the desire to raise the awareness and value of a professional teacher. World governments and countries recognise the value of good teaching as a strong foundation for our next generation and the advancement of society and economies.

However, the real value of a teacher’s responsibility is seen in the perspective of God’s kingdom. Christian teachers are able to view their responsibility in the light of the fact that the children they teach are God’s children entrusted to their care. They need to teach and nurture these children who will themselves grow to see their responsibilities and lifelong obligations to live obediently and in thankfulness before their Heavenly Creator and Saviour.

Isn’t teaching an incredible and awesome, sometimes daunting, responsibility? James the apostle recognises this when he says My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment (James 3:1 ). The power of the tongue and its influence on others is so great, and hence it must be used and guided in the right direction, including from teachers to students. However daunting this may seem, teachers can take on this responsibility effectively since they need not do this in their own strength. Christian teachers may seek the help of God’s Word and Spirit; in fact, they must! That then strengthens them in their task and enables them to enjoy it with enthusiasm.

Parents as teachers

As parents, to whom God has entrusted responsibility for our children, we trust those teachers who have an enormous influence in the children’s lives. In fact, our children have even more teachers than only the professional teachers at school and university. Included in the broader group of “teachers” are prophets, apostles, missionaries and ministers of the Word, not to forget also office-bearers and other roles that include aspects of teaching.

Additionally, it is good to mention a further, and important, cohort of people that fall within the domain of “teachers”, namely parents. Yes, parents are themselves teachers! Simply by being a parent, one is a teacher.  Parents have a responsibility towards the children that God has entrusted to them.


…parents are themselves teachers!


This is very Scriptural as we know from the case of Timothy. Although Timothy was taught much by the apostle Paul, he was influenced strongly, in his faith, by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). Likewise, Moses also had a task, as teacher, to teach the people of Israel so that parents could teach their children.

…the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ [underlining is my emphasis]
Deuteronomy 4:10b

Parents have a very strong responsibility and duty of care to be busy constantly with teaching their children. This is very clear from the Scriptural instruction in Deuteronomy 6.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:7-9)

If the task is daunting for professional teachers, think of what it means for parents! Given that (most) parents do not have any formal training in that direction, how can they be considered a teacher? And how can they be equipped to carry out teaching tasks and take on those enormous responsibilities?

Although they may not have a university degree like a professional career teacher, they do have the best instruction manual for parenting available to them…God’s Word. They also are enabled to carry out their task…through the Holy Spirit and with God’s blessing. Hence they, just as for teachers, need to be continually busy with Scriptures.

Conclusions

So are teachers valued? When we consider the role and responsibilities associated with teaching, they most certainly are! This value is even given more weight when we understand the fact that God’s children are entrusted to many types of teachers (professional teachers, parents, ministers, office-bearers, etc.) in order that they may glorify God in their life.

This value may not always be evident in society, as the international survey results revealed, but Christians have a very good foundation for appreciating the value of teachers. I expect that the survey results of reformed teachers would have given evidence to that.

It does mean, however, that we need to ensure that teachers roles and positions receive appropriate attention, something we must continually do in order to avoid misperceptions. So what should we do? Using the theme of last year’s World Teacher’s Day as a guide, we need to ensure that teachers are:

  1. Empowered. Teachers are empowered by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. Teachers need to live and breathe God’s Word, continually be busy with it in faith and be enabled through Holy Spirit to teach on that one foundation.
  2. Free. Teachers do not need to be hindered by secular guidelines and curricula but need to be free to embed the foundations and principles of Scriptures into their curricula and learning activities.
  3. Supported. All the effort in and outside of the classroom, as well as being adequately equipped, must be supported by their line managers, school boards, and particularly parents; yes parent-teacher communication must be alive and well.
  4. Rewarding. The teacher’s best reward is to see a child walk in the ways of the Lord, and that God has used themselves as a small influence along that pathway, with the Lord’s blessing.
  5. Thanked. Although the task can at times be daunting and maybe even appear unsatisfying, it is good for teachers to receive thanks, especially from parents, and even from students themselves (although they may not recognise thankfulness until many years later!).

…thank you to all teachers for using your God-given talents and abilities in guiding and nurturing all those children whom God has entrusted to your care and teaching


So thank you to all teachers for using your God-given talents and abilities in guiding and nurturing all those children whom God has entrusted to your care and teaching! We pray that you will continue to be busy with the love and light of God’s Word to be able to receive the knowledge, strength and wisdom to teach God’s children.

Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children. Deut 4:10b