Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 1)

“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 “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:

Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015

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 WordPress, 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.

  1. Entry into Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses
  2. Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) structure and content
  3. The value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere
  4. The role of the Education minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers.
  5. The integration of graduate teachers into the profession
  6. The rate of graduation vs the available number of employment opportunities

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.

  1. Entry into Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses

This topic was my initial entry-point into the conversation, on the back of the below Tweets:

I do not disagree 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.

Leaving your mark on society

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’.

-attributed to Dan Rather

One of the reasons I decided to teach was the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined for students’ between their prior knowledge and a new understanding. Knowing that you can make such a big impact on student’s life is hugely rewarding in itself, but also rather daunting.

I was going through Kid President’s playlist on Youtube, and found a video that captures this feeling. A year one teacher, Mrs Flexer, had been teaching in the same school for forty-one years, and was retiring. Some colleagues wanted to send her off in style, and through Kid President, arranged for a variety of her former students to come back, including one man from her very first class. Many of them speak on camera, and tell how she affected their lives, and you hear one of them state that they put their success down to her. It is an incredibly touching moment, and it puts things into perspective, to know that in five, ten, twenty, forty years time, that there will be people who will still remember your name and the impact on your life.

What do you want your students this year, to say about their time with you in ten years?

Celebration time!

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”
-Paulo Coelho. The Devil and Miss Prym

When I enrolled to undertake the Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of Newcastle, it was with the certainty that yes, THIS, is what I want to be doing for the remainder of my working life. Accordingly, knowing that this was what I wanted to be doing gave me a drive and focus that I had never possessed throughout my primary or secondary education.

I pushed hard throughout my degree, other than the first semester where I floundered a little, getting used to having to utilise my brain after ten years of not using it, and came out at the other end with Honours Class I.

This evening, whilst doing some grocery shopping with my wife, I decided to check my e-mails while my wife was bagging up some mushrooms and discovered an e-mail from the university letting me know that I had been awarded the Faculty Medal. I’m absolutely chuffed to have received this award, and it comes on the back of an amazing few weeks.

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I almost feel like breaking into a dance à la Christopher Walken.

There, but not back again.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Frodo, quoting Bilbo.

                                                                                                                                     -J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ch.3.

 

As this is my first blog post, it seems prudent to write about who I am, and why I’ve started this blog. I’m currently in my fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Newcastle, and as part of that, am undertaking the Honours stream. I will be commencing my final fifty day professional experience placement (‘prac’) in during term three of the NSW school year in a stage three classroom.

Teaching for me was a career change, and at times, I have been able to relate to Bilbo when he described stepping out the door as being a dangerous business, except that for me, it was changing careers that was and is dangerous business. Like many people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated from Year Twelve, and over the ensuing ten years worked in a variety of industries including different sectors of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, and also within the electrical industry where I worked for a commercial and industrial firm. It was a good friend who was five years younger than myself graduating from university with a degree in Forensic Science, that made me realise that if I didn’t get over my fear of taking that first step into the unknown, that I would be stuck in a job and working environment that I had grown to dislike.

I had considered teaching for some time, but had been afraid to give up my reasonably-paying job for the ‘uni student lifestyle.’ I am something of a (completely unjustified) snob at heart. I took steps to change my situation, and the cards, metaphorically speaking, were exceedingly kind to me, and so began the journey of a lifetime.

In the ten years since high school, I had found myself numerous times, being responsible for either designing, teaching/training or a combination thereof, new systems, processes, skills, methods and structures for various aspects of some of the different occupations I had held and had quite enjoyed the role. I was also fortunate enough that during my own primary and secondary education I had some male teachers who were both excellent teachers, but strong role models as men. As the eldest of four children, I had watched my siblings go through their own education, and realised that there was a dearth of strong male teachers in the education system. I put the two together, enjoying teaching roles I had taken on in the past, and the apparent lack of male teachers, and decided to enter the teaching profession.

Having family members and friends who are in the education system already, my eyes are wide open to the trials and tribulations that will come over the next forty-plus years of my teaching career, but it for those moments when you see a child’s eyes light up as they ‘get it’ that I have become a teacher. Out of everything that I’ve ever done, nothing comes close (so far) the feeling of satisfaction that ensues having witnessed that moment all the jigsaw pieces form a coherent picture for a child.

That’s a little bit about who I am. I daresay that more will come out over the course of my teaching journey as it is expressed through this blog, and I did say that I’d write about why I’ve started this blog. This has become somewhat wordy, so I will leave the ‘why’ for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.