2. Evidence and policy directions
The following major themes for teacher education emerged from the evidence:
Making teacher quality a priority
Our success as a society and as an economy depends on quality teaching for good student learning; the starting point to achieve this priority begins with high quality teacher education. From the evidence, the first finding becomes simply this: that all possible steps must be taken to make teacher education of high quality. This finding applies to the initial training of teachers, during the induction of beginning teachers, and throughout their careers. From the advice received, it was apparent that the quality and focus of too much that passes for teacher education is questionable. In many cases teacher educators appear to be driven by an interest in the academic discipline of Education or by passing on their own philosophies, rather than giving priority to preparing their students to be excellent teachers. Further, in too many instances teacher educators focus on pushing marginal student teachers across the line, rather than setting high standards for all.
To give effect to making teacher quality a priority, it will be necessary that:
In particular, academics in these disciplines need to be involved actively in the preparation of teachers for their content areas.
In this regard, it will be necessary that work be done on establishing appropriate tests to parallel the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) to assist in selecting those most suited for entry into teaching, both at undergraduate and graduate levels. It will be necessary for the vice-chancellors of universities seriously interested in teacher education courses to establish a committee in conjunction with the employers of teachers across all systems to put this into effect.
No teacher should receive initial certification to teach who has not demonstrated the attainment of essential standards of professional practice.
This will require a review of the data kept by universities and employers so that appropriate information is available.
In particular, talented and suitable people need special support in their professional practice which will enable them to be accredited for their expertise in the provision of education in rural and distance settings.
When the key criteria which describe a profession are applied to teaching, it is not possible to conclude with confidence that teaching is a profession. Evidence gathered during the Review, including the study of processes and structures in professions such as nursing, engineering and accountancy, indicates that unlike other major professions, teaching has only a limited focus on standards of professional practice: there is no self-regulation for quality.
If teaching is to be a true profession, with a focus on quality, teachers need to have their own standards of professional practice. They need to have a direct say in who is and who is not a member of their profession. Teachers need to have a say in how the profession’s future members are prepared. There need to be requirements about and recognition of their own learning once they commence their careers. There needs to be a process which formally accredits them as members of the profession.
As teachers have no means to express a unified professional voice, issues which are professional rather than industrial are dealt with mainly by employers and unions. Advice received leads to the conclusion that teachers have little capacity to influence substantially the standing, directions and standards of the profession, including how future teachers are prepared. While teachers committed to excellence in their work may share their professional knowledge and skills with similarly talented and committed colleagues and with new teachers, in reality they do not have a strong professional voice nor do they operate within a strong culture of professional responsibility.
The evidence indicates that until the teaching profession itself is in a position to deal with quality issues, the decline in the status of teaching which so many raised during the Review will continue. In a society where breadth and depth of knowledge and skills in communication are more important than ever before, teaching should be a leading profession. It is not. Only teachers and teacher educators, acting as members of a strong and creative profession, can resolve the issues now confronting them.
To professionalise teaching and to establish standards of professional practice, it will be necessary that:
Reconnecting schools and teacher education through professional experience
Most professions place importance on their new members having significant experience in the workplace as part of their professional preparation. Teaching does not. Compared with other professions, student teachers spend minimal amounts of time in schools and other educational settings. What they do there is often of doubtful value. Students in teacher education programs need to have more professional experience in the workplace if New South Wales is to have an effective system of teacher education. Universities, the TAFE system and schools only rarely operate in partnership to prepare teachers. Experienced teachers and teacher educators must work more closely together. If in the past universities and schools worked in partnership to prepare teachers, the connections between them are now difficult to identify. Given its expertise in highly specialised areas, including information and communications technology, the TAFE system should have an increased profile in the provision of aspects of teacher education.
The word ‘practicum’ is inadequate to describe the learning of student teachers in models of teacher education where workplace learning has greater prominence. It also reinforces an unsustainable distinction between the theory and practice of teaching. Rather than the word ‘practicum’, the term ‘professional experience’ is proposed. This expression better captures the idea that the student teacher will be involved actively in the professional work of teaching over longer periods of time as part of their preparation program and will develop experience throughout their teaching years.
The present practicum model in teacher education courses is failing to prepare effectively future teachers for the challenges they will face. Individual classroom experiences, divorced from the larger context of the school and sometimes with only limited supervision, cannot be considered as offering high quality workplace learning. Student teachers need to be exposed to workplace situations where they can acquire the knowledge, skills and understandings which teachers require in quality schools. Universities and schools need to be reconnected so that student teachers have high quality professional experiences.
During initial teacher education, in order for schools, the TAFE system and universities to be reconnected, it will be necessary that:
This will improve the quality of school-based professional experience and its integration into other course components.
Expanding pathways into teaching
Most who enter teaching do so as Year 12 graduates. They enrol at university and then go on to teach in schools, perhaps to spend their working lives there. While entry into teacher education after the Higher School Certificate will continue to be the route for many new teachers, other entry pathways should be expanded and developed. Students at all levels of schooling benefit from variety in the backgrounds and experiences of teachers. Prior employment in other education systems and in areas other than education should be valued by employers, not erected as a barrier to entry.
We need to attract people from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds who will become teachers of the highest quality. This applies both to young people who enter teacher education direct from school and those who enter teaching after other employment experiences. Scholarships, traineeships and internships* should be introduced to attract especially talented people into teaching. When discussing the composition of the profession, many raised gender imbalance in teaching as an issue which should be addressed by positive but non-discriminatory strategies.
Para-professional work has become important in most professions but much less so in teaching. It should have a greater profile. There are no reasons why properly qualified people, supervised by experienced teachers, cannot undertake teaching-related duties. Para-professional work should be an important pathway for becoming a fully professional teacher. Such pathways are likely to be attractive to people who would have much to offer teaching, including those from indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds.
Regardless of the pathway into teaching, greater priority must be given to how well the student teacher performs in the professional experience activities provided in the workplace.
Once they have completed initial teacher education, the majority of new graduates are employed in government schools. The Department of Education and Training is by far the largest employer overall, with approximately two-thirds of all teachers in New South Wales teaching in government schools. It is important that the Department’s recruitment and appointment practices give greater priority to attracting and retaining the best teachers available at the time. Appointing teachers according to their position on a waiting list does not serve this purpose. Further, appointment of teachers from a waiting list prevents the principal and school community from creating the best possible mix of teachers. If school leaders had a greater say in appointments they would be more likely to take increased responsibility for the professional growth of individual teachers.
Teaching now competes in a dynamic and fluid labour market. Employers should give consideration to differentiated salaries or conditions to attract and retain quality teachers, particularly for difficult-to-staff teaching positions. Further, given the importance of educational leadership in promoting and sustaining quality teaching, the Department of Education and Training should consider how it could broaden its sources of teachers for leadership positions in government schools.
To strengthen and increase the diversity of entry pathways into teaching, it will be necessary that:
Teaching needs to make greater use of the knowledge base in the existing workforce of people who would, with well structured initial teacher education, become excellent teachers.
If this is not possible, it will be necessary to develop new processes which will:
These para-professional positions should have a direct role in supporting pedagogical practice to improve student learning.
Refocusing induction and continuing teacher education
Unlike other professions, beginning teachers are expected from their first day in employment to function as a fully-fledged teacher. Many report that their introduction to the profession is far from satisfactory. A number of factors account for this.
Amongst teachers there is not the strong culture of responsibility for induction evident in many other professions. There is little clarity about the respective roles and responsibilities of universities and schools for the preparation and induction of teachers. When schools induct new teachers, they have no guarantees about the knowledge and skills beginning teachers should have acquired in their university course. Equally, there are no standards which apply to the responsibility of schools in the induction of beginning teachers. As a consequence, the quality of induction programs varies greatly.
In general, schools need to give greater priority to the induction of new teachers. A number of present practices which occur in some schools are unacceptable. These practices include instances of some school leaders failing to provide beginning teachers with adequate mentoring and supervision. Other instances were drawn to the Review’s attention where beginning teachers were allocated the more difficult classes which would test the skills of even the most experienced teachers. Further, excessive responsibilities are allocated to some young teachers at the commencement of their careers, a practice which is inconsistent with supporting them to become excellent teachers.
The situation for many casual teachers is especially difficult. Large numbers of teachers commence their careers in casual employment. Use of the term ‘casual’ devalues the important work they do. Where they teach in more than one school, the opportunities they have to participate in a high quality induction program are limited. To improve the quality of the induction experiences of beginning teachers, it will be necessary that:
Continuing teacher education
Most professions require members to upgrade regularly their knowledge and skills through further studies or by widening their experience. No such expectation, however, applies to teaching. Most teachers in New South Wales are not required explicitly, even by their employers, to keep up-to-date in their knowledge of the curriculum and how it is best taught. Only rarely are they given the opportunity to experience good practice in other settings. Employers, parents and students assume that the knowledge and skills of teachers are current but they have no guarantees. The evidence indicates that the profession itself, representing teachers, needs to emphasise the importance of further learning.
The focus in most professional development is on the priorities of the employers, not the individual teacher. Teachers accept that they have to participate in employer-determined professional development. They believe that the employer’s priorities should be addressed. They also believe, however, that too much of what they undertake does not meet their own professional priorities. A process is needed whereby teachers can make greater choice about their learning to improve their teaching. They need to own their further learning and should be recognised and rewarded for the advanced skills they acquire.
Too much professional development is ‘in house’ in that it is provided substantially by the employers. Teachers need to be learning from a wider variety of sources. In continuing teacher education, emphasis should be placed on the responsibility of the individual teacher to keep up-to-date professionally, rather than just participating in courses offered by their employer, no matter how important these may be.
Some current initiatives involving collaboration between universities and employers to improve the quality and relevance of continuing teacher education indicate how more professional development should be designed and provided in the future. The focus should be on teachers being able to undertake courses which meet their individual professional needs and interests. The universities must have a greater and more effective profile in continuing teacher education.
To refocus the framework in which continuing education for teachers occurs and to address issues in relation to educational leadership, it will be necessary that:
Integrating information and communications technology into pedagogy
There is general recognition that schools must respond to the information technology revolution if students are to have the knowledge and skills essential for the transition from school to work.
During the Review outstanding examples of the use of computers in teacher education and in teaching were identified. The general picture, however, is not so positive. Not all instances brought before the Review of ‘best practice’ in information and communications technology in teacher education qualified as such. Some amounted to no more than bulletin boards or ‘post office’ sites. They are making little worthwhile contribution to knowledge and skill development. The real power of online learning lies in the capacity to create simulated learning environments, not only for students, but also for teachers and parents. While there are exceptions, this capacity is not being exploited sufficiently in initial teacher education.
The substantial investments which most employers have made in recent years in information technology by providing computer and other technology hardware and offering professional development programs are impressive. In spite of these efforts, there is still concern about the overall skill level of teachers in this important area. There is a belief that, in general, technology usage in classrooms is well below that which students need.
Too many computers are not fully used in classrooms or are used in ways which contribute little to quality learning. In addition, often attention was drawn to the fact that many students have computer skills well ahead of their teachers. Where it exists, the gap between the skills of the teacher and the skills of students must be closed.
Special importance is placed on the role of educational leaders in promoting information technology in education. Today’s school leaders must give priority to computers being integrated effectively into classroom learning and being the prime mechanism for communication within the profession. Professional development for school leaders must give them advanced understanding about the role of technology in classroom teaching so that they are able to give it appropriate priority in their schools.
To improve the quality of teaching through the adaptation and integration of digital information and communications technology, it will be necessary that:
Strengthening behaviour management
Teacher skills in managing student behaviour are essential for quality learning. No student can learn when they are distracted by the behaviour of others, or are themselves the cause of distraction. Behaviour management, however, cannot be considered in isolation. The evidence indicates that our very best teachers give priority to creating positive conditions in which good teaching can take place. They know that one of the areas they must work on is building good relationships with and among students, as well as with parents. Behaviour management is only part of this.
There is generally a low level of satisfaction with how behaviour management is dealt with in teacher education programs. In too many instances the theory taught is so far removed from the settings where student teachers do their practicum as to be virtually useless. This is unacceptable. Teacher educators and teachers should be working together so that student teachers develop adequate skills to manage student behaviour. The theory should make sense of the experiences student teachers have in schools.
Many teachers have outstanding skills in behaviour management. They should be recognised for their expertise and have a significant role in initial and continuing teacher education programs. All teachers should have increased opportunities to reach the standards these teachers have attained in the creation of positive learning environments.
While behaviour management is essential for effective teaching, attention was drawn to instances where teachers impose strong discipline but where the quality of their teaching may be limited. This is apparent especially amongst some older teachers suffering from professional ‘burn-out’. They cope by relying too much on their disciplinary skills, creating a negative learning environment, rather than making their lessons relevant and interesting. The systems in which such teachers work need to deal with this problem. It is one which systems have created, not teachers. Interestingly, the spouses of teachers often identify changes that occur in their partners after a few years, from enthusiasm to disengagement and eventually to increasing cynicism.
Teacher ‘burn-out’ is seriously affecting the quality of teaching. Teachers should have regular opportunities for professional renewal. It is unrealistic to think that professional people can maintain the quality of their practice, including the creation of effective learning environments, unless they have such opportunities. Professional renewal could include short-term placements in other schools and places where teaching occurs. Teachers should be able to use this time to improve their teaching and behaviour management skills. Critically, employers need to consider strategies which will assist those teachers who want to prepare themselves for employment outside teaching.
In order to strengthen the effectiveness of teachers’ skills in the management of student behaviour and the creation of positive learning environments, it will be necessary that:
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