'It’s too easy for people to become teachers’
BEWARE the playground battleground.
But this is no student versus bully scuffle … the new war is between parent and teacher.
It begins innocently enough.
After a stellar start to the school year, perhaps your own star student comes home looking sad and dejected.
Maybe the dog ate their homework, but the teacher didn't buy their puppy-dog eyes. Maybe they got a grade far below what you're sure they deserve. Maybe they got into trouble for something they promise you they didn't do.
And maybe it's all really true. Surely, you think, it's your job to take their side.
Maybe you don't actually harass the teacher in person, or even send a disparaging email. Regardless, you assure Junior you understand - it's all the teacher's fault.
Once again, the stage is set for conflict between parent and teacher - and the ramifications are frightening.
It's something that certainly scares Hayden McEvoy, founder and CEO of the Gold Coast's largest tutoring group, A-team Tuition.
While helping students with homework might seem the only task for a tutoring business, Hayden says mediating between the adults involved is often necessary.
"Every term I go around to schools across southeast Queensland giving 30 to 40 seminars educating parents how to get their kids to be successful, and the key is to work with the teacher," says Hayden.
"The biggest thing I hate to hear is a parent who says their child 'just has a crap teacher'.
"You're just giving the child an excuse.
"That's life. You don't always get a teacher who is your best friend, or a boss who loves you or colleagues who you get along with.
"We've just finished a white paper on sociological change and how it's affecting the next generations coming through school now.
"The fact that so many kids are no longer held accountable and the culture of teacher-blaming is actually going to have a big flow-on effect to industries in the future.
"Over the next 10 years, staff retention is going to destroy a lot of companies. Employers won't be able to keep Gen Z workers because they won't be able to deal with problems when they arise. If the worker doesn't like their colleague or their boss, they'll just leave.
"It's going to lead to a huge drain. Think of all the time spent on hiring and training alone."
Hayden says although parents and teachers should be united in their desire for the student to succeed, fear is compromising the friendship.
He says ultimately the education system, as administered by the government, is the problem but parents have no point of contact except for schools and the teachers themselves.
"Since NAPLAN came in and started hitting the media with websites like My School, there's been a massive shift in schools' psychology. There's a real anxiety now to get top grades because they're on public display," says Hayden.
"Teaching was one of the few professions where there was no KPI advertised, but with NAPLAN the government effectively did that. But without preparing teachers.
"Now we have a situation where schools are worried, teachers are stressed and parents are confused.
"NAPLAN itself isn't good or bad, it's just another testing mechanism, but there is too much importance on it.
"The education industry has a very fixed mindset and NAPLAN is just one example. If you don't achieve good results, you don't get money.
"We should be adopting a growth mindset, where if a school is not achieving in one area, we give them the money to improve. It should be used to test the school, not the individual student.
"We do have some great schools right here on the Gold Coast who are doing that, but it is hard to go against the system. Miami State High is a perfect example - their principal is really pulling it apart and taking it right back to the core.
"Unions are another problem. There's one Gold Coast principal who has been like a mentor to me and he came up with this great system where bonuses would be linked to student feedback, to keep teachers accountable. The unions squashed it on day one.
"I'm constantly saying to parents, the school is not the problem, it's the government. The problem is the model - government bureaucrats have no idea what's going on at the coalface.
"But for parents, their anger is directed at their point of contact - the school.
"Parents are turning against the schools and teachers, but we're trying to help them partner together. We all want the same outcomes."
Hayden well understands the challenges facing students in the increasingly competitive education game.
Graduating in 2008, he went from being a failing schoolboy in Year 7 to graduating with an OP3, attending university and now owning the Gold Coast's largest tutoring company, with 140 tutors and ambitions to go national.
Hayden says he was diagnosed with ADHD as a child but learned to channel his energy into swimming and later, his studies.
As the older brother of swimming champion Cameron McEvoy, Hayden also had aspirations to become a national star in the pool.
It was when Hayden narrowly missed making the Olympic team for London 2012 that he began focusing solely on starting his business.
"At first I was just teaching the homework content to students, but it was when I started teaching them how to learn, how to sort of game the system, that I found the key to helping them succeed," he says.
"I had 16 clients by the end of that year and I had every single one of them to As."
Hayden says changing the culture of the education system from a focus on results to a focus on learning would bring us to the head of the class.
But he says after more than a decade in the industry, he has seen little signs of change.
"After a decade of doing this I've only seen changes in the curriculum, not in the science or psychology of learning," he says.
"The beauty of my job is that I have no parameters, I don't have to follow the policies and procedures and that's how we succeed.
"The schools love what we're doing. We're making their job better. It took me five years to get our first school partnership and now we're the first in history to partner with more than one - we actually have nine."
Hayden says tutoring is big business, not just with students but with teachers themselves.
A recent study by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, which surveyed more than 450 "early career" teachers in NSW, found that long hours, heavy workloads and concerns about dealing with school parents were driving rookie teachers out of schools, with almost half walking out of their classrooms within five years.
Hayden says the number does not surprise him, with a large number of A Team tutors being former teachers who quit the system out of frustration.
"I work with a lot of teachers. After graduating they're working 60 hours per week, they're paid jack all and if they get behind just one week - you know, if one kid is upset and not going to get good grades, that's their bonus gone.
"Teachers are burning out. There are three key factors that contribute to burnout: overwork; poor social environment; and lack of flexibility.
"There is no flexibility in teaching. Everything is micro-designed. They just follow processes and policies with no creativity.
"They are so overworked. The stereotype is that they work from 8.30am to 3.30pm with huge holidays but the reality is that most get to school at 7am, don't leave until 6pm and a lot are on contracts so there is no pay over the summer holidays.
"It's also a poor social environment because their bosses and heads are stressed.
"It's incredibly sad. Teachers are our greatest asset. I would love to see teachers paid as much as doctors and have the profession be just as prestigious.
"In Australia, teaching is a B-grade profession. We have about 20 per cent who are truly inspired who are called to the vocation and 80 per cent who are doing it because they couldn't get in to what they really wanted so they just want holidays. The bar to get into the profession is set too low.
"We can change this. Finland now has the best education system in the world, whereas 10 to 15 years ago it was one of the worst.
"One of the first things they did was make it more difficult to become a teacher, which makes it more prestigious and they are paid the same as doctors. If we did this too, the cultural change in schools would be insane."
Perhaps it's no surprise then that part of Hayden's future plan is to create his own brand of schools.
But he says in the meantime, he's focused on changing the system from within and without.
"We're in a great position to work with and help our teachers. We're trying to build partnerships between parents and schools to help Australia move up on the education ladder.
"I've just finished a series of teacher training videos helping them connect with parents.
"This August we're going to host a conference to help build a bridge between parents and the education system. So often we find parents want to help but they don't know where to start and schools don't necessarily have the time or resources to show them. Or they're scared of inviting parents in, in case it turns ugly.
"One day I'd love to open my own schools here on the Gold Coast where we could really put all these ideas into practice."
You don't need to be a scholar to guess that this peaceful place would be a teacher's true playground.