The sixth International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) was held in Berlin on the third and fourth of March 2016. The first such summit, in New York in 2011, was a major breakthrough for teachers, which also recognised Education International (EI) as the global representative of teachers and of the profession.
The New York meeting, like subsequent summits, brought EI together with governments and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) (OECD), with its considerable expertise and bountiful data on developments in education in member countries.
That essential combination gives this dialogue a special nature and value. What is on the table, the teaching profession, corresponds to the mandates of the representatives around the table - the key actors and practitioners in education in the OECD area.
The theme of this year’s summit was “teachers’ professional learning and growth”. The times in which we live as well as the setting of the summit gave it a special context and flavour.
Challenging times always bring problems as well as opportunities; hope as well as discouragement. We experienced both in Berlin.
There is collective political failure at both European and international levels. This failure, in the refugee crisis and in others, has left the field clear for thugs and bullies. The wave of refugees exposed this lack of coherent leadership and the many barriers to cooperation.
The refugee crisis is a human, not natural disaster. Refugees are fleeing death, destruction, and deprivation. First, they are paying the price for global inaction in their region and then, are often paying it a second time when rebuffed by nations that ignore or unilaterally re-define their treaty obligations.
On the hopeful side, we see teachers in countries receiving refugees taking pride in their profession and responding well to the special challenges of those uprooted from their communities, many suffering from trauma. Although they recognise special challenges, teachers see their mission as teaching children, not refugees.
We also saw the good and the bad together. We saw, for example, a teacher leader in Germany stand up for good, quality education for refugees. However, his courage was “rewarded” with a threat to his life.
We met with a Syrian girl from Aleppo; the epicentre of the humanitarian crisis in her country. She recounted her nightmare of what she experienced, but also, in spite of everything, her dream for the future. She wants to become a teacher – of English.
The refugee crisis is one important example, but there are many other issues as well that require us to paint on a canvas larger than the classroom. The democratic tradition is at the heart of the teaching profession and of the mission of our member unions.
Teaching is one of the professions that improve the world. We urge governments and other actors in education to join with us to protect and enhance the teaching profession. It is only in that manner that we can ensure that people like the girl from Aleppo continue to be motivated to join our ranks.
However, we see danger signs in too many countries where trained professionals are finding the work frustrating rather than rewarding. Far too many are leaving the profession. They are, often avoidably, over-stressed, in some cases placing their health in jeopardy.
Quality education depends on respect and support for teachers. That includes opportunities for top-notch professional growth and development. It means professional autonomy to produce the best possible results rather than relying on judgements from those who learned education from corporate handbooks. It means actively doing what counts rather than passively measuring what does not.
Successive summits on the teaching profession have been important dialogues on critical issues for the future of teaching and learning. They have produced much reflection, many insights, and have revealed many areas of agreement. Most importantly, they have recognised that teachers are at the centre of good quality education.
At national level, however, situations vary enormously. Dialogue, including industrial relations, span a wide range from excellent to non-existent. It is important to maintain this important global dialogue, but we must seek, together, to have greater impact on education “where the rubber meets the road” - in classrooms and communities.
Note: This article is a adapted from the opening remarks to the 2016 ISTP in Berlin of Fred Van Leeuwen.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.