The global teacher shortage crisis has reached unprecedented levels, and Australia, in particular, is grappling with its impact across all school sectors. Heavy workloads, a declining sense of respect, and recruitment policies are some of the key factors contributing to this crisis.
In this article, we delve into the concept of cultivating trans-cultural respect literacy as a promising solution to address teacher shortages. To illustrate this concept, we draw inspiration from cultures such as China and Malaysia, where the teaching profession is held in the same high regard as the medical field.
The Decline of Teacher Respect in Australia
Despite numerous initiatives and action plans, Australian teachers have witnessed a gradual erosion of respect over the years. A Monash Education study has unveiled a startling statistic: a staggering 70% of Australian teachers feel that they are not respected by the broader community. This sobering fact underscores the urgency of prioritizing teacher respect through various socio-cultural avenues, including advocacy and policy engagement. UNICEF emphasises the importance of granting teachers the respect, fair compensation, training, and support they need to fulfill their crucial role in children’s lives. The situation is even more challenging for immigrant teachers in Australia, who often face intersectional discrimination and marginalization both before and after entering the profession.
Trans-Cultural Lessons: Insights from countries in Asia
Adopting a transcultural approach to confront the lack of respect and appreciation for teachers, we can draw significant lessons from cultures that deeply value educators. China and Malaysia serve as prime examples where the teaching profession enjoys the same level of esteem as the medical field. According to Global Teacher Status Index, 2018, these countries respect the teachers most in the world.
In China, teachers are not only educators but also role models and architects of moral character in students. They command respect from both students and parents, and their commitment to rigorous self-development is admirable. Similarly, in Malaysia, teachers are revered as role models for character education, and students hold them in the highest regard. Both these cultures consider teachers as second parents, embodying the adage “to teach is to learn twice”. Teachers in these societies are attracted to their profession not just for employment but also for the social respect and values embedded within it.
Media and Government Portrayals of Teachers
Asian countries often celebrate Teachers’ Day with festivities and gifts, underscoring the profound respect they have for educators. Media and government portrayals in these countries regularly emphasise the critical role teachers play in shaping society and the future, fostering a culture of respect and reverence for educators. In stark contrast, Australian media, as highlighted by Professor Mockler’s analysis, tends to shift blame onto teachers for educational outcomes, with an unwarranted focus on teacher quality and performance while sidelining issues of educational inequity.
Government policies in Asian countries prioritise the status, well-being, and recognition of teachers, acknowledging their pivotal role in shaping society’s future. In contrast, Australia often places the blame for declining educational results squarely on teachers’ shoulders. Unlike Australia, Asian nations have well-established national recruitment policies governing teacher-related matters.
Teacher Education and Quality
Teacher education in China and Russia sets exceptionally high standards, with teachers typically required to hold Bachelor’s degrees in China and even PhDs in Russia. Malaysia offers a four-year Bachelor of Education program that emphasises pedagogy, subject knowledge, practical experience, and continuous professional development. These rigorous programs ensure that teachers possess not only depth but also breadth in their education, attracting top graduates to the teaching profession.
Nurturing Teacher Respect: Institutional and Community Practices
In Asian societies, teachers occupy esteemed positions, and institutional and community practices further highlight the depth of appreciation for educators. Teachers’ Day is celebrated with profound reverence, serving as a clear reflection of the immense respect for teachers in these cultures.
Asian communities highly value teachers, recognising their critical role in fostering societal well-being and progress. Teachers in Asia wear multiple hats, guiding holistic development, nurturing emotional and social growth, imparting profound subject knowledge, and earning immense respect for their wisdom, experience, and unwavering dedication.
The values and profound respect for teachers within the broader community are encapsulated in the centuries-old Confucian proverb: “A teacher for a day, a mentor for life”. This proverb epitomises the deep-seated cultural respect for teachers and their lasting influence on individuals and society as a whole.
Addressing the global teacher shortage, especially in countries like Australia, necessitates a revival of respect for educators. Valuable insights can be gleaned from cultures like China and Malaysia, where teaching is held in the same high regard as the medical profession. In Australia, media depictions and official reports have played a role in diminishing respect for teachers, making it imperative to prioritise teacher respect through advocacy and policy engagement.
A transcultural approach to fostering teacher respect draws lessons from cultures like China and Malaysia, where educators are revered akin to doctors. This respect is deeply ingrained in cultural and educational philosophies, as evidenced by teachers’ experiences in these nations.
Ultimately, nurturing respect for teachers involves a comprehensive strategy that encompasses media, government policies, and cultural values. The profound respect for teachers in Asia, stemming from both institutional and cultural practices, underscores their indispensable role in shaping society and the future. Embedding respect for teachers in our cultural values is both a time-honored tradition and a practical necessity. Only by recognising and valuing the contributions of educators can we hope to address teacher shortages and ensure a brighter future for our children.
Nashid Nigar is an experienced educator at Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), specializes in Educational Research Method. Her career spans teaching English language and literacy across various sectors in Australia and internationally. She has taught teacher education courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and supervised educational research projects at MGSE. Currently pursuing her PhD at Monash University's Faculty of Education, her research centres on language teacher professional identity. Nashid is also involved in research projects related to language and literacy learning and teaching.
Xingxing Yu holds a Master of TESOL from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Experience in working in Chinese state-owned enterprises and her family history in remote areas of western China have prompted her to study educational inequities in China, including gender and ethnic disparities, as well as urban-rural imbalances.