“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
― Haim G. Ginot
What do you think will reduce the churn rate of teachers?
Being a teacher is an incredibly tough, tiring, frustrating profession that also brings great joy, excitement, and a sense of fulfillment. Yet we continue to hear about the numbers of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, and more recently the lack of people applying for leadership roles, particularly at the Principal level (though the recent Principal Wellbeing survey results I think are indicative of one reason why that may be).
If this is the case, how can we improve the process by which we educate our teachers through their initial training? How can we strengthen it to ensure they have not just the knowledge of content, curriculum, pedagogy, educational philosophy and history, but also how to empathise with students, de-escalate situations, recognise student well-being issues and not only know what to do procedurally, but what to do in the classroom or the playground in the moment? How can we screen those who are entering initial teacher education programs to look for best fit without the feeble increase the entry ATAR requirements?
I have seen over the last few years a number of articles that are pointing towards the use of avatars and virtual reality training such as is outlined in this 2010 Inside Higher Ed article, and this article from VR ROOM in 2016, and finally, this Market Watch article from 2017.
One problem with this scenario is that in all of the articles that I have seen where this is addressed, the classroom is very traditional with the teacher at the front and some very stereotypical student mis-behaviours. It does not allow for the teacher to get alongside the students, to deploy some basic classroom management skills such as the simple use of presence or nearness. Additionally, where the students are performed by actors who are in a building nearby, they are trying to work against the teacher and may push well past where an actual student would.
These systems also seem to presume that the classroom in which all teachers practice are simply those with the teacher at the front of the room giving a lecture. While this does happen, I have never met a teacher who only stays at the front. There may be a lecture component, but then the teacher is moving around the room, working one-to-one wit students, answering questions and providing assistance. This system of training teachers could potentially, therefore, embed poor practices before those teachers have even entered a classroom.
I do not know what the solution to reducing the churn rates within teaching is, but I do not think that using avatar and virtual reality simulations is it. More support in the early years, job security, mentoring, better respect from the broader community and less blaming of teachers and education for the ills of society would all go a long way.
What are your thoughts on reducing the churn rate in teaching?
"…if people had maybe a little bit more training in the creative arts, you’d probably see it a bit more."
- Research participant during our interview
When I look at this final chapter now, I am stunned at how short it is and how under developed it is. I can only presume that when I began the proof-reading and editing process that I was unable to find sufficient sections of text to remove in the previous chapters that would allow me to add significantly to the Conclusion to make it worthwhile losing that prior text. I was, quite fairly , given constructive feedback around that specific point. This is clearly the weakest chapter in my mind because I touch on a few areas but do not sufficiently unpack and discuss them and their ramifications within the context of a conclusion chapter.
If you have managed to read through the three preceding chapters in full, you will find this one, comparatively, over in the blink of an eye.
"I wanted to stay away from body-image, I hated body-image, it was so cliché, it was overkill and I wanted to do something completely different and the idea that I came up with, they said it was too shallow, like it wasn’t in depth enough and they made me do body-image, and it really made me unhappy."
- Research Participant during our interview.
On reflection, I feel like this chapter is the second weakest. There were some avenues that I did not fully explore (largely due to word limit), but largely, I was frustrated as in working through this chapter, I found myself wishing that I had asked a particular follow up question to draw further insight from my research participants, to get to the heart of what they were saying. Both of these issues were noted within the examiners feedback, as was the fact that I missed, apparently, some significant articles in my research which would have made for strong additions to my writing. I found this a frustrating piece of feedback, not because I disagreed with it but because the articles and researchers that had been suggested had not come up at all in my literature review.
This means that either their importance is over-stated (unlikely) or that I did not hit on the right combination of keywords to find those particular researchers. As well, it was noted that I did not address some issues at all, such as the impact of perceptions within schools observed during practicum and the impact that had on relationships with the arts. In some instances, I had not the clarity of mind at the time, nor the experience to follow up responses with exploratory questions. In others, it simply did not seem like something that I needed to follow up until I started to write this chapter.
If you missed either of the previous chapters, you can find them here.
As always, thank you for reading, and I welcome any constructive feedback you care to offer.
"To me the arts, was just like a, a filler. Something just for the kids to do that is fun for them, that wouldn’t really tie into anything else cause [pause] my experience with the arts never tied into anything else."
-Research participant during our interview
The examiners found some problems within this chapter and when I read back through this chapter after reading their feedback, they were rather obvious problems as well. There were also a few rather silly typographical errors which somehow neither I nor Mrs C21 managed to pickup in our proof-reading.
If you missed Chapter One, you can find it here.
Chapter II – Methodology
The underlying purpose of this research project is to examine and understand the discourses that constitute the taken-up positions of pre-service teachers at the end of their ITE programs in relation to art education, and to then identify and understand the perceived barriers limiting the implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice. Focusing on the subject positions of three final (fourth) year pre-service teachers who had all completed their ITE program coursework, and had only to undertake their final ten-week long practicum prior to completing their ITE program, this research was conducted utilising a post-structuralist lens to deconstruct and understand the discourses underlying the positions taken-up by the participants in relation to art education, and the resulting barriers as perceived by the participants, impacting on their implementation of the arts in their pedagogical practice.
The use of qualitative research techniques allows for engagement with the multi-layered lived experiences of the pre-service teachers’ ITE in order to clarify the experiences and the participant’s understandings (Polkinghorne, 2005). A post-structuralist perspective assisted in ascertaining the underlying discourses of the participants subject positioning about art education and deconstructing the barriers limiting the implementation of art education.
The use of qualitative research techniques allows for fluidity of direction in the data collection process, as participants’ responses may yield unexpected data that can drive new or different research directions, whilst also providing the opportunity to scrutinise the subject understandings of those discourses experienced by participants throughout the ITE program, and the specific contexts involved (Miles & Huberman 1984 as cited in Ramey-Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996). Participants were sourced through purposive sampling and engaged in semi-structured interviews, with the resulting data analysed through discourse analysis, assisted by positioning theory.
The research focus was on a particular set of relationships; the relationship between ITE programs and pre-service teachers’ subjectivities relating to art education, and the pre-service teachers’ subjectivities relating to art education and the implementation of the arts in their pedagogical practice. For this reason, research participants were recruited through purposive sampling of the 2014 fourth year Bachelor of Education (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts cohort form the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast campus. This cohort was selected due to ease of access by the student researcher.
Purposive sampling allowed for the selection of information rich cases on the basis of their possessing a particular characteristic typical of the population being studied (Punch, 2009), namely those pre-service teachers who have completed their coursework but have not joined the ranks of graduate teachers. The purpose of this study is not, however, to generalise the findings across the current cohort of final year pre-service teachers, but to ascertain and understand the subject positions of the participants and the barriers they perceive around implementing art education in order to gain a clearer understanding for the potential reasons for the divergence between understanding of the benefits of art education and the implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice.
The utilisation of in-depth semi-structured interviews allowed the participants to express their narratives about their subject positions (Punch, 2009; Tanggaard, 2009). The interviews were constructed through a pre-determined open-ended interview schedule to allow for a basic framework of the understanding of the experiences which shape the positions held by the participant to emerge. Those experiences were reinforced and the understandings deepened through the use of follow-up questions, which allowed for the pursuit of those experiences and narrative truths and understandings which appeared outside the scope of the original pre-devised schedule, or prompt questions (Punch, 2009). The use of open-ended questions is preferable to closed questions as it affords the participants the choice of how they answer (Marton, 1986 as cited in Huntly, 2008). The use of ‘’what’ as a question opener was utilised as this has been cited as facilitating a rich description by the participant of the core subject being studied Marton (1986 as cited by Huntly, 2008). The recorded interviews were transcribed solely by the student researcher, and transcriptions were sent to the participants, to provide an opportunity to conduct a member check.
This research examines the positions taken-up by the pre-service teacher participants about the arts in education. Through discourse analysis of the interview transcripts, I attempt to identify discourses which construct the subjectivities of pre-service teachers’ vis-à-vis art education and future use of the arts in their pedagogical practice. The reasons behind the participants’ subjectivities are examined through a post-structuralist lens.
Discourse analysis has been used within this research study as it is a research method understood to be multimodal, combining an array of analysis techniques including, in this context, theoretical, interpretive and critical (Krug & Cohen-Evron, 2000). I take the view that discourses are a productive force created through the amalgamation of ideology, linguistic practices and social relationships which constitute the taken-up position, and the means by which we make sense of the world around us (Davies, 2004; Ma, 2013). There are a multitude of discourses encountered daily, and it is not possible to take up all available discourses (Davies, 1990). Understanding that there are multiple discourses which are not all able to be taken-up allows for an understanding of our existence at the nexus of multiple discursive practices, which can be conceptualised as subject positioning (Davies, 2004). Our subject positioning is constituted through internally owned, or taken-up, discourses (Atkinson, 2004), which are, and do, change over time (Atkinson, 2004; Davies, 2004). This post-structuralist conceptualisation of subject positioning then allows for an ongoing cycle of making sense of, and continually updating, the competing and often contradictory discourses to which we are exposed (Atkinson, 2004; Beijaard et al., 2004; Davies, 1990, 1997).
My understanding of a post-structuralist lens is that it will facilitate and encourage the questioning of those understandings and beliefs which are treated as ‘taken-for-granted’ as it is understood that knowledge is understood subjectively, produced culturally and constructed contextually (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2010). A post-structuralist framework posits that there is no single truth or meaning, and thus will allow me to examine the different narratives (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Posner, 2011), about how positions held, about the arts in education came to be taken-up, as expressed subjectively by the research participants.
Validity, in the context of a qualitative research project such as this one, is as has been broadly stated as being “…the isomorphism of findings with reality” (Denzin and Lincoln (Eds), 1994, p. 114 as cited in Punch, 2009, p. 315). In essence, qualitative validity is looking to ensure that the findings are commensurate with the data from which they were derived. To this end, a feature of qualitative research is the use of a technique known as ‘member checking’, which refers to the practice of checking with the subjects from whence the data came that they are in agreeance that; the initial data (in this research study the interview transcripts) are an accurate representation of the reality (in this research study, the interview), and that the final representation of themselves within the analysis and findings is consistent in relation to their subjective understanding of themselves (Punch, 2009).
Due to the qualitative, and human-based nature of this research project, that is the nature of the participants’ personal beliefs and experiences being examined, due consideration was given to the ethical factors that arose, including consent and confidentiality. Participants were informed in writing about the nature of the study, and participation was on a voluntary basis, with written, informed consent being sought prior to inclusion. Participants were advised, in writing on the consent form, and verbally prior to the commencement of their interview, that they were free to refuse to answer any question, or to terminate the interview at any time, without any reason and without fear of repercussion. To protect their privacy, research participants were asked to select pseudonyms for use during the interviews, with any identifying data being either omitted or altered. Audio recorded interviews and the transcripts thereof have, and will continue to be, held securely in accordance with the University of Newcastle’s Research Data and Materials Management Policy (University of Newcastle, 2008).
Participants were provided with an opportunity to conduct a member check, and accordingly were provided with a copy of the transcription of their interview for this purpose. This was done to afford participants an initial opportunity to review the interview and ensure that they are satisfied with how they and their views have been represented through the interview process (Punch, 2009). This process also provides an initial opportunity for participants to indicate that they wish for data from their interview, either in part or in whole, not to be used for the research project. Participants were also afforded an opportunity to conduct a final member check prior to the submission of this thesis, and were provided with a copy of the final dissertation for this purpose. This was done in order to provide a final chance for participants to ensure they were satisfied with how they have been represented and interpreted as part of the analysis process, and that they have been represented authentically.
It was not expected that research participants would experience stress, mental or emotional discomfort during the interview. Participants were be reminded at the commencement of the interview that they had the right to refuse to answer any question, or terminate the interview, at any time, without reason or negative consequences for their relationship with the researchers or the University of Newcastle.
Chapter Two outlined the methodology used within this research project, and the literature that supports the methodology’s use in relation to the research question. Chapter Three will communicate the subjectively understood answers to the research questions described within Chapters One and Two.
“I’m not going to be an art teacher that teaches art”
- Research Participant, during our interview for my Dissertation
When I was in the process of completing my initial teacher education (ITE), I considered whether or not it would be worth undertaking the Honours process as part of that. There were a lot of factors that fed into the eventual decision to apply for a place, and ultimately, though it helped not one whit with acquiring a full-time position as a teacher, I am glad that I went through the process. It was long, mentally and intellectually challenging, and it pushed me to think more critically, to be more aware of research processes and biases as well of various research methodologies. I actually enjoyed the process of researching, and writing and it has had a significant influence on my writing style.
I had considered working towards having it published, however, have neither the time nor the mindset at this point to sit down and re-edit it sufficiently so that it fits within the word limits of a journal article. More importantly, I have no disconnected with the data and with that piece of research and would need to invest significant time and effort into reconnecting. I do wish to pursue a Research Higher Degree at some point (after Youngling has started school at the earliest is what I have been told) and so offer up over the next few articles, my Honours dissertation for feedback.
I have not made any edits whatsoever to this version. It is a straight copy and paste from my original 2014 file. I am rather proud of it, despite its now (to me) glaring flaws. If you wish to dive straight into the whole dissertation, you can find it here as a PDF. I have also made available the examiners reports and rubrics (after redacting their identifiable information). I found it interesting that one examiner marked it as an eighty-eight whilst the other marked it as an eighty-two. A fairly significant variation in marks, however, the average of eighty-five was sufficient to earn a High Distinction and thus, with the other requirements met regarding my Grade Point Average etc., the award of Honours Class I.
I welcome any constructive feedback you care to offer.
“I am on the record stating that if we as a nation want to improve the standard of our teaching we must make teaching harder to access as a career. However, we have too many universities using teaching courses as a cash cow to cover the costs due to diminishing federal funding of research.”
-Dr. David Zyngier. E-Mail correspondence, 2016
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
All quotes in this article are taken direct from the interview with Dr. Zyngier unless otherwise noted. All interpretations of Dr. Zyngier’s views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Dr. Zyngier has been included for the sake of transparency. Aclarification article has been published here.
In addition to being granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters, I have been privileged to gain an e-mail interview with Dr. David Zyngier, currently a Senior Lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy with the Faculty of Education at Monash University. There are a number of presentations at Education Nation which promise to generate significant food for thought, and which I suspect will generate heated (yet hopefully constructive) discussion and debate within Education circles.
Potentially one of the most interesting sessions scheduled, certainly perhaps one of the most provocative, is The Great Debate: Australian democracy at risk – the future of Australia’s education system, a moderated debate on the age-old topic of public vs private education, taking place within the Rethinking Reform conference stream. This debate will feature Dr. Zyngier arguing the case for public education and Dr. Kevin Donnelly arguing the case of private education. I am expecting a highly interesting debate, particularly during the (moderated) questions from the floor component. Given that there is sure to be a capacity crowd, I asked Dr. Zyngier to provide a short summary of his position on the issue.
Dr. Zyngier’s view is that the continuing rise in education funding being provided to private education is having the effect of denying a fair go to the students who need the most support in favour of students who are blessed to be born into socio-culturally advantaged families. This is a significant factor in the increasing socio-economic divide between the working class and the upper class. Ultimately, this issue may result in public schools turning into “…ghettos or sinks of disadvantage leading to an ever increasing decline in educational achievement in those schools as the flight of cultural capital takes its toll.”
The quality of teachers and of initial teacher education (OTE) programs has come under fire again over the last twelve months, to the point that just this week, a grammar training manual has been launched for teachers, again prompting a wave of backlash and criticism against the poor quality of teachers. When asked about the quality of teachers and of calls for minimum standards for entry to ITE programs, Dr. Zyngier pointed out that “Teacher education is apparently the most reviewed area of society undertaken by state and federal governments with on average at least one each year over the past 30 odd years!” In fact, a brief switch to Google Scholar returned over seventeen thousand results with the required keywords teacher education research Australia with the articles.
“Each review makes the same basic recommendations to improve ITE – student teachers need more time in the classroom and more practical experience – but the funding required to do this is never forthcoming.”
During the last few years, a number of articles have been published in the media calling for better teachers and higher quality ITE programs, particularly during the period of time when Christopher Pyne was the Federal minister for Education, though it has continued since he left that role. In Dr. Zyngier’s view, it is not the quality of teachers that is necessarily the problem, but the quality of the teaching. Dr. Zyngier’s position is that the general public have heard successive Federal Ministers for Education, beginning with Julia Gillard and continuing with Peter Garret, Christopher Pyne, and the incumbent Simon Birmingham, quote from Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning (summary here) that the main influence on a child’s academic outcome is the teacher.
Dr. Zyngier observes that teacher impact makes up to twenty-five percent of the difference, which, though a significant impact, is not as significant as we are led to believe from Professor Hattie’s work (as seen in this article). One clear source, in my view at least, of improving the quality of teachers and the quality of teaching, is the ITE programs from which our teaching force gain their qualifications. Dr. Zyngier indicated he is on record as having stated that “…if we as a nation want to improve the standard of our teaching we must make teaching harder to access as a career.”
It is a sentiment I can agree with as there were a number of pre-service teachers in my own ITE program who openly admitted they were only there because mum and dad told them they had to get a job or a degree, and so they took the easy option. It is an indication of the rigorousness of teacher ITE programs that they are seen as being an easy option. There have been discussions about raising the minimum tertiary entrance scores (currently the ATAR), however, Dr. Zyngier indicates that this change should be made in conjunction with aptitude testing. Personally, I believe that there are changes required. However, my concern is that the personality and aptitude of a nineteen-year-old is not indicative, necessarily of the kind of teacher they will be at the age of thirty. It would, I suspect, serve to screen out some people who are categorically unsuitable to the teaching profession or those who are entering into ITE programs purely because they have told they need to get a degree or a job. Whilst I acknowledge that medicine is a different field requiring some different character traits, I believe that an examination of the entry into medicine programs would be a useful process to guide restructuring entry requirements for ITE courses.
Dr. Zyngier is a proponent of ITE programs being at the Masters level (as is the case in Finland), rather than remaining at the current Bachelor level, Though I am not sure about that, I can certainly understand the perspective, but I wonder, given the number of classroom teachers we currently have with postgraduate qualifications listed (this is shown in all public school annual reports), what impact this would have on teacher recruitment. Further, Dr. Zyngier’s view is that ITE programs should include a research component to educate teachers how to engage with and evaluate education research for their own practice. The added challenge to this is to ensure equitable access opportunities for those from under-represented communities, creating an additional layer of complexity in the process.
I agree wholeheartedly with the belief that a research component should be a requirement for ITE programs. Completing the Honours course as part of my own ITE program, though incredibly challenging, was rewarding and provided a very different perspective to research and the processes which researchers undertake as part of their work. This ability to engage with and discern quality research, understand the results and conclusions and implement them within a teacher’s specific context is particularly important given the importance of establishing the basic framework around which the entire education system is structured; the ability to read, write and understand use numeracy principles.
Finland has a high-performing educational systems vis-a-vis the OECD PISA and TIMMS testing regimes and therefore is often looked to as a beacon of educational hope. Given the disparate nature of the educational contexts in Finland Australia, is it realistic, or even fair, to uphold Finland’s educational system as something we should aspire to here in Australia? Dr. Zyngier acknowledges that Finland is very different to Australia, not least in regards to climate, geographical size, and population. The key difference, however, lies in what Dr. Zyngier terms the policy trajectory.
Education policies in Finland are a non-political issue, being determined by education experts informed by evidence-based research. This is in stark contrast to education policy in Australia, where each new government, and even successive Education Ministers during a Government’s term in office, work to make their mark on education through either ideological or political policies. Again, in contrast to this, education policy in Finland was, and is, based upon equity first, which through a range of other policies, has led to a high-quality education system.
Teachers in Finland are highly valued. Dr. Zyngier points out that this does not equate to highly paid. The system also trusts teachers, allowing them to teach. Dr. Zyngier also wrote that privately run schools are rare (approximately two percent of primary and middle schools) and that if they charge additional fees, their public funding is stripped. Dr. Zyngier also indicated that Teacher unions are heavily involved in education and act as a significant resource for both policy and practice. This last point sounds very alien to me. As a public school student in the early 1990s, my recollection is of regular strikes and an ongoing sense of frustration and some anger from my parents towards the union due to the number of strikes and the impact it had on our education. Fast forward to today and it feels like the NSW Teachers Federation is seen as outdated and useless by many colleagues, with “what do they do for us?” being an oft-repeated critique. A Teachers Federation that has a strong, healthy and positive working relationship with the Government and which contributes, as a partner, in the policy-making process sounds like a great environment to work in.
Dr. Zyngier notes that the driving emphasis in the Finnish education system has been an equitable education for all students whereas in Australia, it appears that the impetus is on quality outcomes with equity a distant second-place priority. This is played out in the choices parents have as to which school to send their child to. Dr. Zyngier indicates that almost all children attend the local suburban school in Finland, whereas in Australia there is currently a three-tiered educational system. Whilst there is the option of the local comprehensive school fully funded by the public, parents may also choose from schools which receive the majority of their funding from the public (typically most Catholic schools and low-fee religious schools), as well as elite independent schools which receive less than fifty percent of their funding from the public.
The subject of school funding is a particularly lively topic of discussion at the moment, with the impending Federal election and the promises made by both major parties about the way in which they will fund education. My personal view is that education is a basic right of all children and should be free to all, per Article Twenty-Eight of the United Nation’s Conventions on the Rights of the Child. I have issues with independent schools who charge exorbitant enrollment and tuition fees and still receive government funding. The entire staff at my current school would receive an average salary of just over AUD$80,000 each based on just the Year Five and Year Six student enrollments at one local independent school, never mind the rest of the enrollment fees from Kindergarten to Year Four at that school. Whilst I do not have a problem with independent schools per se, I do not believe they should receive any public funding, those funds should be reserved for, dare I say it, the public schools.
The educational system that is often presented as an alternative model is that of Singapore, one of the so-called Asian Tigers (along with Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). Dr. Zyngier points out that though the high results achieved in PISA and TIMMS are discussed, how those results are achieved is not. He continued by pointing out that research indicates that almost all students attend intensive afternoon cramming schools in addition to their regular schooling and private tutors. Furthermore, research indicates that these schools are typically reserved for the elite, while in Shanghai they “…actively exclude lower performing rural students whose parents do not have the necessary residency permits that will enable them to attend…”
Interestingly, and disturbingly, students who are adjudged to be under-performing in class, are often asked to stay home on the day of testing, which is a phenomenon we have seen in Australia in relation to NAPLAN testing.
Cultural attributes have rarely been a factor in conversations or articles I have read regarding educational impacts, however, the research has shown some interesting results. On standardised testing, students from Chinese backgrounds have been found to achieve higher results than their Australia, American or European-borne peers. Dr. Zyngier notes the implication that cultural attributes are potentially more significant than previously thoughts, indicating that it is not the school or the teacher having the most significant impact on a student’s academic outcomes, but the family.
When I began my ITE, the Australian Curriculum was in the burgeoning stages of its implementation. When it was introduced to us during those early stages, it made a certain kind of sense; one country, one curriculum. When asked if a national curriculum should have been a goal, Dr. Zyngier pointed out that Canada and the USA, two countries of comparable physical size and political structure to Australia, do not have a national curriculum. He also commented that the impetus behind the apparent importance of the creation and adoption of the national curriculum was never made clear.
His view is that nationally agreed competencies and skills should be of higher importance than concrete factual knowledge “…which was the subject of the overtly political review led by Donnelly & Wiltshire in 2014.” The result of the review was predetermined by the selection of Donnelly and Wiltshire:
“…cultural warriors…their selection by then [Federal] Minister [for Education] Pyne. They found too much emphasis on Asia, Indigenous Australia, the Environment and not enough reference to Australia’s European and Christian heritage, a lack of focus on the basics, and too much faddish constructivism.”
Social media is prevalent now as a source of free and readily available professional learning. I personally find Twitter to be incredibly useful as a source of inspiration, feedback on practice, a source of ideas and a way of staying in touch with research. I do, however, acknowledge that is should not be the only source of professional learning or development, nor should is it necessarily designed to replace face-to-face mentoring and professional development opportunities. Dr. Zyngier agrees that there is a role for social media and online courses as part of a teacher’s ongoing professional development. However, the needs of individual teachers vis-a-vis professional development are varied and more support and time needs to be made available to teachers to allow them to adequately access those opportunities, whether this is working alongside a mentor, visiting other schools, online courses or attending a university course. I have seen on Twitter, some teachers talking about observational rounds, wherein teachers observe each others practice to provide feedback on a predetermined goal.
The media have been consistently reporting in recent years (for example; here, here and here) that approximately forty percent of new teachers are leaving the teaching profession within the first five years. I asked Dr. Zyngier what advice he would give teachers embarking on their EdVenture so that they do not join the forty percent. He responded that teaching is only for those who can commit to working very hard, very long hours, with a high workload and who can handle being blamed for societal failings and problems. Enjoying working with children is, of course, a must. This is advice I can certainly agree with, and from conversations that I have had with other educators, it would certainly appear to be quite sound advice.
I hope that you found this article as interesting as to read as I found it to write. I also hope that you get along to Education Nation in two weeks time, at Luna Park, to hear what is sure to be an interesting and thought-provoking conference. If you have not yet done so, I would also recommend you consider attending the live AussieEd event which is being held at Kirribilli Club after the conclusion of Day One of Education Nation.
As always, thank you for reading and keep an eye out for the Education Nation conversation on Twitter under #EduNationAu.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here,
Now the problem with standardized tests is that it's based on the mistake that we can simply scale up the education of children like you would scale up making carburetors. And we can't, because human beings are very different from motorcars, and they have feelings about what they do and motivations in doing it, or not.
Last week, students across Australia in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine were required to sit the annual NAPLAN testing. NAPLAN is ostensibly inflicted upon students to assess their growth over the eighteen months since their previous NAPLAN (or to serve as a benchmark if it is the student’s first NAPLAN). This testing process has a significant number of flaws and causes stress, anxiety and frustration, amongst students and parents, but also amongst some teachers. This year was my first involvement with NAPLAN, as while I am teaching a combined Year Five and Six class this year, last year I was employed in an RFF capacity and had only been in that role for a few weeks when NAPLAN arrived, and thus felt only a minimal impact as a result.
I remember sitting the Basic Skills Test in Year Five sometime in the early 1990s (though I have no recollection of sitting it in Year Three), and my recollections of it was that it was a low-key test, where my parents received a booklet which talked about grade-level expectations, and indicated where my results across the various tests sat in relation to my peers at my school, and then either across the state or across the country, I cannot recall which. My teacher, Mr. Davies, who is one of the reasons I entered the teaching profession simply told us that we had to sit this test to assess our progress and to just give it our best effort. Mr. Davies was a fantastic teacher, and as far as we knew, the test had little importance beyond what it told him about our results. We sat the test, I rushed through it as I always did (and still do) with multiple choice tests, and then went outside and read a book while I waited for my classmates to finish. Mum and Dad received the results sometime later, we chatted about them, Mum asked if I rushed through the test (cue the head hang, “Yes Mum, sorry, I just wanted to read my book”) and life moved on.
I do not doubt that there was more to it than that, however, from my perspective at that time, as a ten-year-old boy, was that it was just something we had to do, but not something that was particularly important. Things have changed, however, and not for the good. My students seemed to do ok. I had two or three students who were a little anxious, but otherwise, they did not seem overly concerned. There were, however, students across the Central Coast, from conversations with other teachers, who could not cope and actually made themselves sick, including one student in Year Three. Additionally, there were students who would ordinarily write a high-quality narrative, with excellent character development, a complex plot twist, and a clever resolution, who simply froze because of how little time they were given.
I do not know what approach other teachers took in the lead up to NAPLAN, whether much preparation was in class, or set at home; nor do I know how much preparation my students’ put in outside of school, of their own volition (or at the behest of their parents). Personally, I sat down on Monday afternoon to talk to them about it for the first time (I had studiously avoided mentioning NAPLAN) at any point prior to that), and the reaction was immediate. Some students I could tell were worried about it, some were ambivalent, and some were annoyed that they had to complete them due to the time they took out of class. My Year Six students were ecstatic, as they would be spending the time undertaking Peer Support Training with another teacher and myself.
I talked to them about NAPLAN for a little while, telling them about my own experience with the Basic Skills Test, and then made it very clear that as far as I was not worried about their NAPLAN results, as long as they put in their best effort. I reminded them of the formative testing in literacy and numeracy that we had completed at the beginning of the year, and that we would be completing those assessments at the end of this term and again at the end of Term Four, and that I was focused on the growth they showed across the three iterations of those tests. I reminded them that NAPLAN did not know or care whether they had slept well the previous night, or had eaten breakfast or not, or are more athletically inclined, or anything else, other than the results that they put on their paper and submitted for NAPLAN.
We talked about the way they get feedback on their learning outputs in class, through the marking systems we use, or through one to one conversation during class time and that I do not get to see what they write and so cannot give them feedback, or know how they went, other than the number which is given for each test result. I could see some of the tension leaving some of my students, and my Year Six students were helpful as well, talking about their experiences and that it was not as hard or as stressful as they thought it would be.
I have a great group of students.
Whether or not we like NAPLAN, it is here, and it is here to stay, though I do not doubt it will evolve over time into something else (such as the move to digital completion which has been discussed for some time). There is a body of research about the impact that it has across the education sector and in the current education environment, where we continually here about the fourth-grade slump and the drop in results across PISA and TIMMS, short-sighted politicians are looking for a quick fix that will get them votes at the next election. There is talk about planning for the future, but I sincerely doubt that it actually means anything, given the way that politicians lie in order to get the support they need.
Students across the country have teachers who know and understand that NAPLAN is relatively meaningless, a single snapshot in time which takes twelve weeks to develop, and where the original negative (student submissions) are not available for checking. NAPLAN is a broken and flawed tool which causes stress and anxiety in students and teachers and from anecdotal reports, some parents far above what it provides in return. I await the result of this year’s NAPLAN test for my students, which will mean little as the text-type for the writing test was a different text-type to what they were required to write when they were in Year Three, making the data comparison invalid from every point of view I can think of.
What was your experience with NAPLAN this year? How did you, your students and your students’ parents cope? Do you prepare your students with pre-testing or give them a speech similar to what I gave to my students? Is your school one in which NAPLAN is a highly important test, or is it largely disregarded? I would appreciate hearing about your experiences with NAPLAN and the strategies you employ in your context to survive the infliction of NAPLAN each year. As always, thank you for reading.
“There are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.”
– Professor Geoff Masters. E-Mail correspondence, 2016
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
All interpretations of Professor Masters’ views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Professor Masters has been included for the sake of transparency.
After I had accepted the invitation to attend Education Nation in order to write a series of review articles about the event, I asked if it would be possible to conduct a series of pre-conference interviews via e-mail with some of the speakers. I was privileged to have been granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters AO, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) as well as head of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation.
In developing the questions for Professor Masters, I felt that it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his opinions about statements by Professor John Hattie in April 2015, where Professor Hattie indicated that he felt classroom teachers should leave education researcher to trained researchers. I recall there being quite the uproar on social media as a result of Professor Hattie’s remarks, with a great number of educators commenting that there is no reason they cannot engage with research.
Professor Masters’ view is that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.
The title of the article in which Profess Hattie’s statement was published was certainly clickbait and as with most instances of clickbait, upon reading further, the statements were not as provocative as at first glance. Indeed, Professor Masters’ response to this question implies that Hattie’s sentiment that teachers should leave the research to the researchers is reasonable. Indeed, when you read further in the article, where Professor Hattie is reported as also having said “I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that,” I find it difficult to disagree.
I cannot speak to the level of training that other classroom teachers have received in research. Personally, having only received an introduction to educational research through the Honours program I completed as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) (delivered by Dr. Nicole Mockler), I do not feel that I would be able to put together a large-scale strong and rigorous research project on my own, whilst also managing the day-to-day requirements of teaching and evaluating the effectiveness of my practices. That said, I do feel that I have had enough training through the Honours program to enable me to read and utilise the outcomes of research to inform my reflections, or to work with a researcher to conduct more formal research.
Professor Masters further noted that high levels of training and proficiency are required for certain types of research, which dovetails neatly with Professor Hattie’s comment that “[r]esearching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill.” I do not have years to invest in mastering the skills to become proficient with rigorous, high-quality formalised research. I would prefer, at this point in my career, to invest that time in developing my pedagogical practice. In that frame of reference, leave the research to the researcher is not, in my opinion, as provocative a sentiment as it first sounds.
During the last four years in various staffrooms and study sessions with my colleague pre-service teachers, I have encountered a variety of opinions regarding the relationship and relevance that research has to classroom teachers. Whilst there are pockets of teachers who see the value in the relationship, by and large, educational research appears to be seen as irrelevant. Professor Masters stated that too often pedagogical practice is shaped by beliefs about what should work in the classroom and beliefs shaped by fads and fashions of the day (Greg Ashman has written about various fads and fashions in education including here, here, here and here). Additionally, I have heard the “it worked when I was in school/first started teaching/we did it this way in the 70s and 80s” refrain regularly, with its unstated implication that it will still work.
To improve the quality of classroom teaching, and by extension, the learning outcomes for students, Professor Masters asserts that evidence-based pedagogical practices should be implemented; that is, those pedagogies which have been demonstrated through research and experience to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes and engagement. The relationship between educational research and classroom teaching is one of sharing, with Professor Masters commenting that “[p]rofessions are defined largely by a shared knowledge base. Educational research is playing an essential role in building that knowledge base.”
It is interesting to note that there is a growing community of educators on various forms of social media sharing with their practices, both the successes and the failures, with each other, and it will be interesting to see what role the online Professional Learning Networks play in contributing to educational research in the future, both as a source of information and participants, and as a vehicle for dissemination.
I asked Professor Masters what his thoughts were on what stood in the way of Australian education and the heights of PISA and TIMMS testing results that seem to be the benchmark by which educational success is judged. I did so with reference to the ITE programs in Finland and the well-publicised reign of Finland at the top of the table in regards to PISA and TIMMS. Professor Masters’ response was relatively simple. High-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore have raised the status of teachers.
Professor Masters noted that there are a number of high-performing countries who draw their teachers from the upper echelons of secondary education, typically starting with the top thirty percent and some drawing only from the top ten percent, making teaching in those countries, a highly respected and sought after career. This is not the case in Australia, where the required Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is quite low, as highlighted in this article from May 2015 which indicates that almost a third of all pre-service teachers achieved an ATAR of less than sixty. That demonstrates the low respect held for teaching compared with some of the ATARs listed in this article from January 2014, indicating that a to enter a Bachelor of Health Science/Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of Western Sydney required an ATAR of 99.95, or the combined law degrees at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, both with minimum ATARs of 99.70.
The school of thought that simply increasing the minimum required ATAR to enter an ITE program will improve the quality of teachers is not necessarily true. This article from October 2015 indicates that only a small percentage of pre-service teachers enter their ITE immediately upon completion of their secondary education. However, I do not believe that Professor Masters is advocating such a simplistic solution. His comment that “…teaching is a highly respected and sought after career and these countries have succeeded in making teaching attractive to their brightest and best schools leavers…” (emphasis mine) indicates to me that it should be merely one component of the admission process.
Professor Masters observed that in teaching in Australia is trending in the other direction to high-performing countries, becoming less attractive, an opinion I agree with. Personally, I am finding that time I would spend planning and preparing for a lesson is being taken up by mandatory training modules which provide no actual training, or on paperwork which is needed for the sake of bureaucracy. I, like many other teachers around the world, am struggling to balance work and family and am left feeling guilty for not spending time with my family. Perversely, I also find myself feeling guilty for not spending the time I want on marking and writing feedback, or on planning and resourcing a lesson, (often with things from my own home or which we have purchased with our own money).
The debate about how to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a profession is an old and ongoing one, and I look forward to hearing it discussed during Education Nation. When asked for his view on how the issue could be resolved, Professor Masters pointed out that it would require a series of deliberate policy decisions on a range of issues including teacher salaries, resourcing, and autonomy; as well as the number of admissions into ITE programs. Professor Masters noted that the countries which appear at the top of the international testing results, including Finland, limit the number of pre-service teachers each year. This article indicates that only one in ten applicants is successful in gaining entry into a Finnish ITE program.
There are also come clear benefits to restricting the number of entrants to ITE programs. You are also restricting the number of graduates, thereby helping to prevent what has happened here in Australia, where there is a glut of teachers who are unable to gain permanent employment due to the high number of graduates each year. Professor Masters’ final point was that an important factor in the perception of teaching is the academic rigour of the ITE program itself. I have written previously about my own ITE (part one can be found here), and I do believe that ITE programs, in general, can be improved, and look forward to hearing about that topic at Education Nation.
NAPLAN, which commences next Tuesday for Year Three, Five, Seven and Nine students Australia-wide, is an incredibly high-stakes testing process which has the potential to cause great anxiety and consternation amongst students, parents, teachers and policy-makers, and which invariably receives a great deal of attention in the media. When asked about why he thought NAPLAN moved from being a low-stakes test to what it is now, Professor Masters wrote that it is part of a deliberate strategy to improve performances through incentives.
These incentives appear to use the carrot and stick method, with some financial rewards for school improvement or, alternatively, the threat of intervention and sanction for poor performance, and yet, the international experience has demonstrated that school behaviour is changed when the stakes attached to tests are increased. This is shown by the annual breaches that occur during the administering NAPLAN tests, including cheating and inappropriate assistance by some teachers, and the way in which many schools prepare their students for NAPLAN, as indicated in this article. Further to this, the public release of NAPLAN allows parents to compare schools and can result in some schools losing students as parents opt to send their child to seemingly ‘better’ schools.
Professor Masters commented that high-quality tests are an important component of education, providing diagnostic data around topics or concepts that require attention, monitoring improvement over time and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of programs and interventions. The widely used Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) is an example of the kind of test that can be an invaluable part of a teacher’s toolkit.
I do agree with Professor Masters about the value of testing. At the beginning of this year, Stage Three students in my school all completed a series of diagnostic tests across reading, spelling, and mathematics. That data was invaluable in identifying those students who need additional assistance in particular areas, and plays a role in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for some students, and also for discussions with parents about the student’s results and progress throughout the year. It will also play an important role in quantifying students’ growth across the year when those tests are re-administered at various points throughout the year.
My final question to Professor Masters was his advice to new teachers as they enter their classrooms pressured to ensure that their students to achieve high NAPLAN results. He responded that “[t]here are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.” Professor Masters’ belief that the goal should be to improve our students’ literacy and numeracy levels, and that if we do raise the NAPLAN results, it should be as a result of improved literacy and numeracy levels. The problem, he pointed out, is that NAPLAN scores can be increased in ways that do not lead to better literacy and numeracy levels.
I am grateful to Professor Masters for his time and willingness to engage in the interview process. I very much look forward to hearing him speak at Education Nation, where he is speaking to the title Addressing the five key challenges in school education that matter to you on day one. Professor Masters will also be joining Dennis Yarrington, Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire and Lila Mularczyk for a panel discussion about Student Testing on day two. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation, I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.
As always, my thanks for reading, particularly given the length of this article. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or feedback via the comments section below or on Twitter.
For other articles in the Education Nation series, please click here.
“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio
What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?
I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.
This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.
In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away. Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.
Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.
At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.
I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.
As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis. I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?
There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?
I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.
On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.
I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.
Today did actually go well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.
I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.
That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year. As always, thank you for reading.
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
– Attributed to John Dewey
I have sat down to write this particular article on a number of occasions and for various reasons, have ended up not doing so, however, I am determined to write it today and thus am staying back at school, with no, or rather no domestic, distractions. Whilst I checked out of social media, from an educating point of view, for the duration of the Christmas holidays, I was still perusing the various tweets and reading linked articles when they struck my fancy, e-mailing many of them to myself for later use.
I have written previously about Initial Teacher Education (my Musings on Initial Teacher Education series can be found here) and there have been some articles that have made for interesting reading around the topic of initial teacher education, as well as teaching in general, that I believe are worth discussing.
Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman) is someone whose style of writing I tend to enjoy reading, and his article The bad ideas that hold teachers back was no different. This particular article discussed, very briefly, the pedagogical practice of differentiation, citing it as seeming “…truthy enough…” but that ultimately, it does not have a solid bank of evidence supporting it. To demonstrate this, Greg included the below graphic:
It is an impressive looking graph, however, I am not conversant enough in statistical analysis to understand whether what is being represented is actually statistically significant. I understand enough to understand that I am looking at a graph that would appear to demonstrate that the greater the percentage of lower secondary (which I take to mean Years Seven to Nine) teachers who profess to differentiate by providing alternate work either frequently or in almost all lessons correlated to a lower PISA mathematics mean score in the 2012 iteration. Greg provided a link to a pdf file from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented which he summed up as finding that:
“…the teachers weren’t doing it right. So it is either something that works if you have particularly talented teachers who can implement it – although this has not been demonstrated – or it is an idea that doesn’t work at all…”
I have mixed feelings regarding the concept of differentiation. I agree that in theory it does sound “…truthy enough…” but that in practice it often seems to result in learning opportunities of a far lower standard than the student needs (or, perhaps, is entitled to) or at the other end of the scale, fails to provide a sufficiently high challenge. I must note that at this point in my career, that I have not had a great range of exposure to how specific teachers differentiate specific skills, concepts or pieces of knowledge, and so I am drawing from a limited well, that being my own experience, which in this area feels like wandering in the dark, to a degree.
The next article I noted was also by Greg, and was titled A guide for new teachers. It contained a number of ideas and thoughts that I feel would be beneficial for new teachers to be aware of, and I think which the pre-service teacher I wrote about last year would have appreciated reading had I come across the article then.
The final article was regarding teacher qualifications, job shortages, and accreditation issues, which I believe I will leave for another time, as those issues are complex enough, and have the potential for a lengthy article in their own right. I am also conscious of the fact that it is now just after five pm and that I still have a number of other things I need to do before I go home.
“Success is finding satisfaction in giving a little more than you take.”
– Attributed to Christopher Reeve
Just a very brief article as I have a short break between classes. We currently have a pre-service teacher (PST) in our school, who is on her first professional experience placement. By all accounts she is quite capable. I have chatted with her a bit about my experiences and given her some advice based on my time as a PST, which she has been receptive too.
Today (I am writing this on Thursday 25th June 2015), is the last day of the term for me, so I took the opportunity last night to compile some resources and content from both my own initial teacher education (ITE) and that I have gathered since I transitioned from being a PST into the teaching profession, went up to her class this morning and gave her my USB to copy the content across to her own so that she could benefit from my mistakes, my learning and my experience to help prepare her for the remainder of her own ITE, her own professional experience units and then her initial entry into the profession.
The look of unbridled joy and excitement was all the thanks I needed. To know that someone was so thankful for a few resources that I have accrued over time and have no problem disseminating if they will benefit others is a great feeling in and of itself. Additionally, her cooperating teacher’s wife is in the same ITE cohort, and so he is also taking a copy of everything for her. Eventually I would like to set up a system whereby teachers can keep resources, digitally, and share them to other teachers, royalty free. The concept of the sites where teachers share with other teachers is great. I have a real problem with charging for access to those resources though, especially when people use the argument of “I should be paid for my time.”
I do agree teachers should be paid for their time, and they are. But trying to claim payment for time spent developing resources, that you would have developed anyway for your own use, is a great example of the sunk-cost fallacy. Others may disagree with me, and that is fine; I am happy to agree to disagree, but I personally will never charge access to resources that I have created for my own use. I get paid every fortnight, that is the payment for my time.
If you have ideas about how to effectively set up such a system, whether a purpose-built website, use of Google Drive etc, I am open to suggestions. If you would like to engage in a discussion regarding the above concepts, happy to do that as well.
Thank you for reading, and enjoy your mid-year break.
“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
– Attributed to Jacques Barzun
This most recent series of articles has been interesting to write, as it has required a significant amount of reflection on a range of areas that ordinarily would not receive a significant amount of conscious thought. The conversations that have emerged from this series of articles has also been intriguing and thought provoking. This was, according to the set of emerging themes I included in my original article, set to be the final article in this series. It is quite likely that a further article will emerge as a result of the conversations that have transpired as a result. This article will be examining the potential employment opportunities that are available in comparison to the number of graduates each year, and the number of active teachers not currently employed permanently.
In 2014 there was a series of articles in the print and broadcast media that indicated that there is currently a glut of available teachers in comparison to available positions, such as this article and this article. This is in conflict with articles from a range of other sources that indicate there is a shortage of teachers, such as this article. Further reading indicates that the truth is somewhere in between, with a glut of primary trained teachers and a shortage of secondary teachers in specific Key Learning Areas (KLAs), as indicated in this article.
The general consensus, based on reading these articles and similar sources, appears to be that the initial teacher education (ITE) programs are graduating between five and eight thousand new teachers annually. The Daily Telegraph, in July 2014 cited research conducted by BOSTES which found that at least one third of the NSW DEC approved employment list who are unable to gain permanent employment within four to five years, desist in their search, either remaining in the casual or temporary workforce, or leave the teaching profession. It has been my experience as well that a range of classroom teacher positions are held by teachers on temporary contracts, such as single or two year contracts, often serving in the same role on a year-by-year basis as temporary teachers for up to and longer than ten years.
Another article indicate that the shortage of teachers is actually occurring in secondary education in science, mathematics and languages. There is little apparent research that examines the reason for the disparity in training and opportunity, why pre-service teachers (PSTs) seemingly gravitate to the primary education sector as opposed to the secondary sector, and I would suggest that these questions be examined as they would yield valuable results that would guide future ITE course capacities.
The Herald indicated last year that there were around forty-four thousand teachers in NSW employed on a casual basis, and that only around half of the sixteen thousand graduate teachers from the 2013 cohort had secured permanent employment four months later. These figures, as a graduate teacher, are deeply concerning.
I do not know what the situation in this area is across the rest of Australia, however, here in NSW looking through the weekly jobs listing would uphold the position that there is a shortage of teachers in specific KLAs in the secondary education sector. Each week, there appear to be a significant number of mathematics, science and language classroom teacher positions advertised, with a large number of them being in rural or remote NSW.
The NSW Department of Education and Communities (NSW DEC) is not ignorant of this situation, with a range of incentives being offered in an attempt to attract teachers to these remote and rural schools. These incentives may include rent assistance, subsidies, additional professional development release time, additional leave entitlements, climatic entitlements and isolation from goods and services allowances. Personally, I would happily secure a permanent position in a remote or rural location if not for the fact that my better half currently has a permanent position in her industry, with an excellent employer and colleagues. Accordingly, and with regard to a desire to have family support available while we raise our own family, we have made the choice not to relocate at this point.
In regards to the demand and supply imbalance, I believe that there are a number of options for approaching it. The first and obvious option would be to reduce the number of places in primary ITE programs. In conjunction with this, I have heard suggestions that the HECS debt for the secondary subjects suffering from shortages should be negated with the caveat that graduates are required to be employed for three to five years before the HECS debt is removed, and the HECS debt suspended in the intervening period. The lecturer from my EDUC2103 course, Schooling, Identity and Societies, Keith Crawford, spoke about a solution that the English Government took in regards to a similar problem. I must note that I have not been able to find any articles talking about this, but that he was a teacher in England at the time that this program took place.
Keith indicated that young teachers were leaving the profession due to their inability to progress within their career via promotions due to the number of positions filled by older teachers and administrators who were still some years from retirement age. The approach taken saw a significant number of these senior teachers being offered early retirement packages. This had the impact of creating a number of vacancies, which allowed those suitably qualified to progress through the promotion chain. I could only imagine the cost of this program, however, it would have some significant effects, both positive and negative.
Positively, it would create a number of vacancies requiring to be filled, which would of course create vacancies further down the chain as teachers, assistant principals and principals all progressed. It should have (I am unaware if it did or not) create a culture of change as those progressing through due to the new vacancies would hopefully come through with new ideas and a willingness to embrace change and pedagogical and technological advances, particularly in the areas of twenty-first century learning.
Negatively, it would result in a significant loss of knowledge and experience, which would need to be addressed. This could be achieved through options including mentoring, a stepped handover period for each level of responsibility, and a potential short-term shortage of teachers at each level of the hierarchy.
I cannot see the Australian government adopting such an approach, due to the significant front-end cost. That said, I believe that a mixture of the two approaches I have discussed, both the removal of HECS debt for specific shortages, and the voluntary retirement program adopted by the English government would have a very significant impact in regards to reducing the number of classroom teacher positions held by temporary appointments, improving the number of permanently employed teachers.
As always, thank you for reading. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has a suggestion for how this issue can be appropriately addressed. It is not a simple situation, and I think that changes need to be made to the entire system.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
– Attributed to Carl Jung
My previous article outlined a conversation I engaged in with Mark Johnson (@seminyaksunset) while he was the guest host for the @EduTweetOz handle regarding initial teacher education (ITE). As a result of this conversation, I felt inspired to write reflect on ITE in general and mine in particular and I identified six issues from that conversation that I wanted to address via this blog, which were as follows:
On Friday of last week (June 12), I posted the first article, addressing entry into ITE programs, and it generated some very interesting conversations and I received some very intriguing feedback, both in comments on the article itself, and via some Twitter conversations. My article today will address the issue of ITE structure and content. I will be dissecting my own ITE program and examining how the quality of teachers that it produces could be improved through modification of the structure and content. I also plan to include some ideas based on feedback I received as a result of my previous article.
I completed my Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts degree through the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle (Australia). I also want to say up-front that on the whole, I am quite happy with the program I completed, and that for me, personally, I found it to be satisfactory and that I am well-placed to be a good teacher as a result. From conversations with classmates during and since, there are of course those unhappy with certain aspects, and as I mentioned briefly in my previous article, there are entire expectations of being a teacher that weren’t discussed at all, but that, I suspect, is to be expected and would be consistent with the majority of universities. What I plan to do, is to outline the program that I completed before examining how I believe it could have been improved.
My degree was a four-year (full-time) program consisting of two semesters per year and four courses per semester for a total of three hundred and twenty units of study. We were required to complete forty units of a discipline depth study (DDS), a Sustainable Community elective and in our third and fourth year or study we had the choice between undertaking the Special Education specialisation stream, the Honours (Graded) program, or an elective course.
I moved a few things around and actually ended up completing three hundred and thirty units of study. I completed my DDS requirements under the mathematics and science umbrella and elected to undertake the Honours program. I also completed eighteen weeks of professional experience placements (two x four-week blocks and a ten week internship) as well as ten sessions of once a week for half a semester. The overview of my degree is below:
The degree that I completed has since changed. Beginning at the start of 2015, all Bachelor of Education (Primary) degrees graduate with ungraded Honours. My understanding is that the ungraded Honours component incorporates concepts introduced in graded Honours, such as research methodologies, ethical considerations, epistemology, ontology etc. but that a research project is not undertaken nor a thesis written. If you are curious, click here to read more.
How would I modify the program?
I want to again state that overall I was satisfied with the ITE that I received. As with any situation, however, there are ways in which it could be improved, and below are the ways in which I would change my degree to make it more rigorous, and provide a greater level of preparation for teachers entering the profession.
Year One Semester One
There were some interesting conversations, as I mentioned previously, as a result of my previous post. I was contacted on Twitter by Amanda Corrigan (@ajcorrigan) who is the Director of Student Experience, School of Education and Associate Dean (Student Experience) Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde (Scotland). Amanda advised that Strathclyde University conduct interviews for entry to the second year of their ITE program, with questions based on the student-teacher's learning from the first year program. Students, both those who do and do not receive approval to continue, are provided with advice about next steps. All students undergo a first year placement which may be in any institution with children such as traditional educational institutions, but also prisons, asylum seekers, sports clubs etc. Amanda also advised that Scotland’s newest teachers also receive a guaranteed year in school, a mentor and reduced reduced class contact. This has the potential to allow graduate teachers to focus on improving their pedagogy and classroom management with advice and guidance from experienced teachers. I also received insight from Corrine Campbell (@corisel) and Sally-Anne Robertson (@eduemum) regarding their ITE, which you can read in the previous article of this series.
The content and structure of ITE programs, whether it be undergraduate or post-graduate, needs to be more rigorous, with a greater focus on an understanding of how to read and use the curriculum document as a tool for programming, how to apply TPCK and SAMR models to technology considerations, and more rigorous and explicit teaching around how to teach the KLAs; in addition to teaching how to write programs so that the KLA’s are, where possible, integrated in authentic ways that allow content to be covered across broad swathes of the curriculum. These integrated units should be used where suitable to allow time for our students to go about the business of learning how to think. As I said in my final article from the Teaching for Thinking Forum review series:
“…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne), that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skill set…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr. Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).
Thank you for reading this long article. I would very much like to hear peoples thoughts and feedback on what I have written today, whether it be in the comments here, or over on Twitter. This series will continue with a new article tomorrow, which I will endeavour to keep a shorter length.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.”
– Dan Rather
The last few articles that I have published have been an examination of emerging themes from a Twitter conversation regarding pre-service teachers (PSTs) and initial teacher education (ITE). The conversation can be viewed in the original article in this series. There have been some thought provoking responses on Twitter and in the comments section on the various articles. Thus far in this series, I have written regarding ITE courses and ways of making the entry to those courses more rigorous, the value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere and the role of the Education and Training Minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers. This article will discuss the integration of graduate teachers into the wider profession at the culmination of their ITE, from a collegiate point of view.
The way that a teacher is integrated into the teaching profession will vary according to how they are engaged – permanent, part-time or casual, and for casual teachers, according to the view of casual teachers from the school with which they are engaging. My experience has generally been positive and I have felt like a valued professional in the majority of my engagements as a casual teacher. There has been, however, little support by way of integration offered in regards to an invitation to attend professional development sessions when they are conducted on the day I am in that school (only received from two schools I was engaged with), advice and feedback, whether constructive or positive, regarding my work (I utilise a template I designed when in a school on a casual basis that allows me to indicate what was done during the day within each KLA and asks for constructive or positive feedback to be sent via e-mail) or general advice in relation to such areas as playground duty expectations, how to deal with minor injuries students acquire whilst playing, how to engage with or avoid staff room politics or the realities of dealing with the paperwork and administrative requirements of teaching.
Casual teachers, l believe, fall through the gaps in regard to professional development, particularly those graduate teachers who are in the early days of their career and are trying to get their foot in the door. Greater efforts need to be made by the relevant bodies (NSW DEC, BOSTES AITSL etc.) to ensure that graduate teachers who are still operating casually receive assistance with finding their feet in the teaching profession. I should point out that the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) did put on a casual teachers seminar on the Central Coast earlier this year that was open to all casual teachers regardless of the time in teaching. This seminar was beneficial but I felt aimed more at casual teachers hero had been in the system for a while and had a good understanding of navigating their way through acquiring work etc. Casual teaching can be very lonely, given that day to day you may be in different schools, let alone different classes. Additionally, casual teachers in general and new graduates specifically may be somewhat isolated as many school staff rooms are devoid of life during break times due to playground duty personnel requirements, sporting and other extra-curricular activities or those teachers who elect to remain in their classroom to complete marking or other similar duties. I know that at my current school, if there are more than three or four people in the staff room it is unusual.
That has been my experience as a casual teacher across a range of schools. I dropped off a one page resume with copies of relevant documents such as my approval to teach, my Working With Children Check, my anaphylaxis training certification etc. attached, to twenty schools. I did this based on advice from a friend who is a Deputy Principal and indicated that many schools will not contact you at all for any number of reasons including but not limited to not needing any additional casual teacher on their casual list, teachers arranging their own casual cover as opposed to a central person within the school, not liking the font you used, that you emailed it as opposed to dropped it off in person and not liking the way you have set your resume out. Some of these are valid reasons, some of them are rather petty, but they are all reasons I have heard at various points.
The experience for those who receive permanent positions straight out of university is markedly different. The summary of that experience is based on what I have been told by some classmates who were in such fortunate positions. The initial phone all with the offer of a position is rather exciting to receive, of course, and those whom I know in such a position have all indicated that they were told what year group they would be teaching and were invited to attend during the summer holidays at some point to visit their classroom, meet colleagues, begin planning and programming and to begin the administrative process required to become a permanent employee. The main issue that I am aware of, again, from conversations with friends, is that there is no advice given as to the paperwork process that is required. A classmate was advised she had a permanent position, met her colleagues, saw the classroom was asked to begging planning and programming with but said to me that she had not received or signed a contract and was a little worried about that fact.
Clarity would no doubt have been appreciated from her as to what was happening. I learned, after asking the question at a local branch NSWTF meeting that “on boarding” was a lengthy process and that no contract would likely be seen until the paperwork had all been completed. The anxiety felt by my classmate would no doubt have been alleviated by a thirty second conversation that contained words to the effect of “the paperwork is being processed and it normally takes … You will receive your contract when it has been processed.” I want to reiterate the point that this summary is based upon what I have been told, not my own experience and that the classmate in question was feeling rather overwhelmed at this point.
On the plus side, as a targeted graduate, my friend received an additional session of relief from face to face (RFF) each week to provide her with additional time to plan and prepare as well as general guidance from an Executive Teacher. My understanding is that she was generally quite happy with the support she received, however was left feeling overwhelmed with the unanticipated responsibilities and duties that were not fully explained, either in description of in explanation of the time investment required to complete them.
I received my temporary engagement after having been working on a very regular basis in my school as a casual teacher for most of the year to that date, however, my understanding is that for temporary teachers, the experience of transitioning from pre-service teacher (PST) to teacher falls somewhere in between that of casual and permanent teachers.
I would very much like to hear from you as to your experience transitioning from PST to teacher and the support and guidance received from more experienced teachers and the various bodies to which teachers are required or encouraged to join, or for those of you who are in senior positions within schools, the systems or processes in place to integrate new graduates into the teaching profession and assist them with finding their feet.
Thank you for reading today, and I look forward to hearing people’s opinions on this topic, particularly anyone who came out of their ITE with a permanent or temporary position and can shed more light on the experience of transitioning form PST to either of those roles.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“The evolution of social media into a robust mechanism for social transformation is already visible. Despite many adamant critics who insist that tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are little more than faddish distractions useful only to exchange trivial information, these critics are being proven wrong time and again. ”
– Attributed to Simon Mainwaring
The @EduTweetOz Twitter account describes itself as a “RoCur for Aussie educators to share ideas, experiences, q’s & passion. Building community. New host each wk” and is a very worthwhile Twitter account to follow. Each host brings with them a new topic and their own perspective on that topic to the table for discussion, and each host is also given an introductory interview blog on the EduTweetOz blog site which allows the accounts followers to gain an insight into the week’s host.
The beauty of the account is that it is open to nominations from educators from any sector of the industry, which keeps the discussion topics from the account fresh and interesting. You can nominate yourself to be a guest host by clicking here.
Recently, the account was hosted by Mark Johnson (@seminyaksunset) and I stumbled onto a conversation regarding pre-service teachers partway through the weekend, and joined in, as you can see below:
There are a few thoughts that arose from this conversation which I believe are important to discuss and if I provoke some constructive dialogue, whether it be in comments to this article here on the website, or alternatively, on Twitter or Google+, I believe that I will be happy. There were six main ideas or topics that I drew from the conversation with Mark, and this article will address the first of them, with others emerging over the course of the next week.
I certainly do not believe that I hold the answers to any of these issues, though I certainly have some opinion. However rigorous discussion around some of these issues appears to be sparse in their occurrence, despite the level of importance to which society as a rule attaches to education. The above issues are all, to a certain degree, inter-related, so their may be some topic-jumping, however I will do my best to keep this series of articles on topic.
I do not agree with the premise that increasing the entry score for ITE courses will necessarily equate to a raising in teacher standards. I strongly believe that there are too many variables in play, as with any sort of standardised testing regime for the overall mark awarded at the end of a students secondary education when they are either seventeen or eighteen to be any indication of the kind of teacher they will be later in life. I pointed out that as a secondary student, I performed poorly in my final secondary education exams, receiving a University Admission Index (UAI, currently known as the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) in NSW) score of only 55.55.
There were a number of potential reasons for my low score, which are ultimately irrelevant in this conversation, but I entered university as a mature age student, put in much more effort than I ever did in my secondary education, and came away with Honours Class I, the Education Faculty Medal and will be the Graduate Speaker at my cohort’s graduation ceremony in July of this year. My UAI was no indication of what kind of tertiary student I would be, and my tertiary academic results are no indication of what kind of teacher I will be.
So I do not believe that relying solely on an arbitrary ITE entrance score would necessarily have any real impact on the quality of teachers that graduate. My initial response, that ITE should move towards an entrance model akin to the medicine entrance model that combines entry score requirements with an interview and personality test would only help to a degree. For someone who wished to enter the teaching profession immediately out of high school in their late teens, the interview process would serve well to weed out those who only want to enter the ITE courses as they see them as an easy option. This may sound a little silly, but I distinctly recall hearing two classmates during my undergraduate state that they were only doing the course because their parents said they had to go to university after high school and teaching was easy to get into. However this alone would serve to reduce the number of disinterested teachers entering into the profession and that reason on its own, to me, seems to make introducing entrance interviews worth examining further.
Another measure that I believe could be added into the entry process is perhaps more controversial. I am aware from conversations with a number of my classmates that many of us feel that nothing in our ITE properly prepared us for what teaching is actually like. I was not offered a permanent position under the NSW Department of Education and Communities Targeted Graduate Program (TGR), and to be quite frank, I am rather thankful for that fact. I picked up some casual days early this year at a local school where one of my classmates received a permanent position under the TGR and when I asked how she was finding the position, she commented to me that, and I’m paraphrasing from memory here, “…[she] was not ready for a full-time spot straight out. There is so much stuff that was not covered [in our ITE]; even just the admin requirements alone, forget the need to interact with parents.”
This is a sentiment that I can sympathise with. I do agree that there was a lack of understanding imparted to us as to the way in which teaching can consume you if you do not take steps to prepare yourself, and the requirements outside of the purely teaching that are placed on teachers. A teacher friend of mine, who is currently in an Executive position, commented to me during a conversation one afternoon that “…teaching is a twenty-four hour job.” A sentiment which my classmate, and myself, are only just starting to properly grasp to truth of.
This knowledge, this understanding needs to be made more explicit somehow during the admission process. Whilst it may scare off some who would in fact be excellent teachers, it would also scare off those who think that teaching is a nine-to-three job, and allow prospective teachers to go in with, if not eyes wide-open, than at least somewhat aware of the enormity of the role which they are undertaking. There are a few ways in which this could be done, such as requiring prospective teachers to spend time with a teacher, not just in the classroom, but attending staff meetings, professional development session, report writing, planning and programming in an attempt to understand the workload that is placed on teachers. However, something such as I have just described could not realistically be expected to occur before the commencement of the ITE.
I am not sure what measures, other than introducing an interview process or perhaps some sort of requirement to spend time in a classroom prior to commencement of the ITE, could be introduced to the front-end of the ITE the system that would actually enhance the quality of teachers that graduate at the back-end. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has ideas to achieve this, either in the comment section here or alternatively on Twitter or Google+.
Thank you for reading my semi-organised thoughts on ITE today. The next article, which will be published on Monday, will discuss the structure and content of ITE courses in general, and mine specifically.
See here for the list of articles in this series.