Home | In The Classroom | ‘Data is a dirty word’: teacher goes part time to cope with workload

‘Data is a dirty word’: teacher goes part time to cope with workload

After 34 years of teaching, Barbara*, a Catholic high school teacher has gone part-time due to her tipping workload which has been driven by data collection.

The teacher decided to downsize her career to sustain a work-life balance and while she said she’d love to go back full-time, she believes she couldn’t cope. 

“I'm a seasoned professional and I've gone part-time in order to cope with my workload and I still think I'm working as hard as I ever have,” Barbara told Education Review.

When she started teaching, Barbara remembered it was all about her students and their education, now she said the job has become a lot more difficult. 

“Back in the day, I went in and taught my lessons, now it’s the planning, teaching, marking, collecting data, the meetings and reporting to the helicopter parents.  

“These are all things that add to our job as a teacher.”

Out of all the extra tasks other than teaching Barbara gets to do, the one thing she dislikes the most is data collection. 

“Data is a dirty word,” she said. 

It was about ten years ago that Barbara felt things were changing; data was becoming more and more important in her classroom. 

“About ten to 15 years ago, we collected some data, we did assessments and recorded the results, but there wasn't this obsession with data collection.”

Now Barbara spent hours collecting data for all sorts of reasons: NAPLAN, assessment results, the NCCD information but also anecdotal evidence about each student in various software available in her school.

“I like to call it admin-trivia,” she said. 

In addition to assessment results, Barbara’s school collects anecdotal evidence about students’ performances in classes, but also about their strengths and weaknesses throughout the year.

“I need to collect anecdotal evidence about my students but also I need to write how as a teacher I’m going to improve their outcomes.”

Every week, the teacher collects her students' results in a spreadsheet but she said it doesn’t automatically “populate” the other reporting comments programmes she has to fill - she has to do it manually once again. 

“The information we collect often overlaps, and we end up doubling up on tasks,” she said. 

“The worst? It disappears when the semester rolls out.” 

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara noticed all the data she had collected during the semester had disappeared and couldn’t be accessed anymore, leaving her to wonder about its “value”. 

“We talk about being data-informed,data-driven and in the end, I just think we've really lost sight of what's important, the primary focus should be students.

“I feel that all this data entry is taking me away from the important job of preparing engaging lessons for students and instead I'm focused on data.”

According to Barbara, the school's argument to collect anecdotal data was for teachers to better know their students. 

“But I know my students already, why do I have to write that down somewhere?” 

“If one of my students is not good with paragraphing, I can't really show that on data. There's nowhere the data are going to show that as such, so what’s the point?” 

Additionally, while Barbara does as she is told and records her students' data, she said she doesn’t understand how to interpret the results. 

“We have a staff meeting where the data is analysed. My problem is that often the graph and the numbers shown don't make a lot of sense to me.

“I'm not a data analyst, I'm an English teacher,” she said.  

Like Barbara, many teachers across Australia have to deal with data collection daily, taking them away from their job. 

Australian Catholic University Education lecturer Rafaan Daliri-Ngametua said schools, policymakers and the general public have become data-driven which devalues teachers as professionals. 

“We're relying more on data evidence to tell us what we know about students' learning rather than the professional expertise, skills and knowledge of the teachers themselves,” Daliri-Ngametua told Education Review.

“Teachers are sort of disappearing from the educational landscape that's supposed to give their work value and meaning.”

She said collecting data and rendering the results publicly ensures a devaluation of the teaching profession and creates distrust from the general public. 

Daliri-Ngametua believes that without teachers the data doesn’t mean much, as educators are the ones to give context to the numbers.

“Nowadays, the data determines if teachers are doing their jobs properly, but they are the ones that provide the context and give purpose to the assessment data, not the other way around.”

In her recent paper ‘Devalued, Demoralised, Disappearing Teacher’, she highlighted the impact of data collection on teachers. 

She said data takes away teachers from important tasks, leaving them time-poor, stressed, anxious, and feeling devalued.

“One of the key issues we are having is that teachers already have a very crowded workload, data is taking them away from students' learning and looking after their wellbeing.

“It is robbing them of the valuable, authentic and educated work that they're trying to do as teachers.”

While Daliri-Ngametua believes some data is useful for policymakers, school leaders and parents, she wonders to what extent will the data obsession go. 

“There is this obsession with collecting more to improve our education system, but how much it's improving the system I'm not sure. 

“Is it worth the payoff of actually taking away time for valuable teaching and learning?”

*Barbara's name has been changed to ensure anonymity.

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One comment

  1. As an experienced teacher, it is important that we exercise our professional responsibility and prioritise our teaching and students learning. Collecting data bean counter is not our role and the sooner the profession pushes back and retrieves our professionalism and others value our knowledge and expertise the sooner students learning will improve. Data collection is often used to disguise the real issue which is mistrust and disrespect of our profession and the role we play in the classroom. So much has been shifted into the teacher domain because others have shirked responsibility. I have raise my children why do i need to parent the students I teach? Government funding of schools is mis-directed: we do not need more checks and balances we need teaching to be valued and real time allocated and resources to enable us to fulfil our role which is working with children not working two jobs 8 – 5 in the classroom and 6 – 12 at home being a data technician and bean counter. If experienced teachers can not do their job any wonder early and mid career teachers flee as the expectations are unsustainable.

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