The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) informs the Australian Council for Educational Research of classroom chaos:

Students completing PISA reported classroom discipline levels that placed Australia below the OECD average. About one-third of the students in affluent schools, and about half of those in disadvantaged schools, reported that in most or every class there was noise and disorder, students didn’t listen to what the teacher said, and that students found it difficult to learn.

The problem is, of course, misleadingly attributed to teachers:

While [the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study] and PISA show that disadvantaged students are less likely than their advantaged peers to report that their teachers are very engaging or supportive, the good news is that when they do experience very engaging or supportive teaching, they – and their advantaged peers – have higher achievement than those students who face less engaging or supportive teaching.

PISA not only assesses students, it surveys them and their principals, but not their teachers. The current PISA report addresses at length the support offered by teachers but does not address “engaging” teaching. Here is the key finding on teacher-offered support from the report’s “The school learning environment” chapter (see page 247).

Australian students were generally positive about how much support their science teachers provided; however, while the differences were small, a significantly lower percentage of students at disadvantaged schools than affluent schools reported the teacher showing interest in every student’s learning, teacher providing extra help, and the teacher helping students with their learning.

Embedded in the report (page271):

On average, Australian students were significantly more positive than students across the OECD on all items reflecting teacher support.

Despite teachers’ best efforts, students do indeed encounter problems in the classroom:

Students in Australia and New Zealand reported the lowest levels of positive disciplinary climate in their science classes … 

Students from Australia and New Zealand most frequently reported students don’t listen to what the teacher says (40% and 39% respectively). In contrast, less than 10% of students in Japan reported students don’t listen to what the teacher says in most or every lesson. There is noise and disorder was similarly reported most frequently by students from Australia (43%) and New Zealand (42%). In Australia, students cannot work well was the least frequently cited disciplinary problem in science classes.

Overall for each item, Australian students reported a significantly higher level of disciplinary problems in science classes than the OECD average.

Rather than blame the miscreants, principals chose to blame teachers (see page 258):

Overall, principals in Australia perceived that teacher-related behaviours were more likely to hinder student learning in their schools than student-related behaviours.

This makes about as much sense as blaming police for crime. Australia’s principals, many of whom are increasingly isolated from day-to-day events – what with their growing administrative burden – are obviously untruthful, 80% affirming:

When a teacher has problems in his/her classroom, I take the initiative to discuss matters.

When a teacher brings up a classroom problem, we solve the problem together.

Not once in my almost 30 years of teaching did a principal ever approach me about classroom matters. Long gone are the days when principals or deputies take an interest in discipline problems, their time now devoted to paperwork, meetings and furthering their careers, heads of learning areas and student services assuming responsibility for student behaviour management.

Regardless, it’s students’ responsibility – especially in high school – to engage in the learning experiences provided by teachers rather than demand that teachers provide engaging – eduspeak for entertaining – learning activities. As I tell my primary-age grandson, “No matter what your teacher asks you to do, it’s up to you to complete the work the best you can.”

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