Education is about giving

“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), 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.

Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 5)

“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.

Another article indicate that the shortage of teachers is actually occurring in secondary education in science, mathematics and languages. There is no 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 disturbing and 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 each week, 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. Incentives may include rent assistance, subsidies, additional professional development release, additional leave entitlements, climatic entitles 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 lecture from my EDUC2103 Schooling, Identity and Societies, Keith Crawford, spoke about a solution that the English Government took in regards to a similar problem.

Keith indicated that when faced with young teachers leaving the profession due to their inability to progress within their career through promotions due to the number of positions filled by older teachers and administrators who were still some years from retirement age. The approach taken was such that a significant number of these senior teachers were 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 the bottom of the pyramid.

I cannot see the Australian government adopting such an approach, due to the significant cost up front for such a program.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.

Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 4)

“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 collegial 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 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 staffroom politics or the realities of dealing with the paperwork and administrative requirements of teaching.

Casual teachers, il 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 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 isolate 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 staffroom 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 withthin 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 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.

Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 3)

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
– Attributed to Henry Adams

This is the third part in a series of reflections on initial teacher education (ITE). The opening article in this series focused on options to change the way that pre-service teachers are brought into their ITE programs with a view to lifting the quality of teachers. This is, of course, a difficult task and furthermore is a very contentious topic. The follow-up article was an examination of my own ITE program and ways in which it could have been strengthened with the view to improving the quality of graduates by making it a more rigorous program, and by better preparing graduates for the real world of the teaching profession. Today’s article will combine two of the topics originally listed in my opening article as they are heavily intertwined; the value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere and 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.

I have been told that the position of Education Minister has not always been the popular and visible that it currently is, and that education as a topic of social discussion has not always been the ‘hot-button’ topic that it has been in the last ten to fifteen years. A brief Google search with the terms improve teacher quality brings up these results. A quick perusal of the search results reveals that there is a general call to improve the quality of teachers. Searching within a variety of topics within the sphere of education allows you to see the discourse of dissatisfaction emerging. This can be seen in educational topics such as NAPLAN results, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the creative arts.

It is my belief that the news industry is responsible, in large part, for shaping public perception around the value and quality of education and teachers. Personally, I believe they do a reprehensible job of representing the teaching profession and the education industry through the continual publication of articles that decry the effort, the worth, the value, the training and quality of teachers.

The other side of it is the now high-profile portfolio of Education and Training Minister, currently held by The Honourable Christopher Pyne MP, also wields a great deal of influence in the shaping of public perception in regards to the education sector. There has been an increasing interest and importance attached to the annual NAPLAN testing as a supposed measure of teacher and school quality. I am unsure whether this has been socially driven by parents concerned about the education their child is receiving, or whether it has been as a result of ongoing politically determined importance. Wherever the impetus for the increased misplaced focus on NAPLAN testing comes from, it does seem to have originated, at least initially, with the (then) Education Minister Julia Gillard’s unveiling of the MySchool website in 2010. In 2009, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was established to oversee the implementation of the planned Australian Curriculum.

The rationale behind this appeared logical; to allow greater consistency in skills and concepts taught nationally, thereby simplifying the process for students and teachers to move interstate. There was an underlying issue with this premise. It is not a truly national curriculum. I am unsure as to other states, but the current curriculum documents here in NSW are not the Australian Curriculum. According to the NSW BOSTES site, “New South Wales joined with the Australian Government and all other states and territories to develop an Australian curriculum…[t]hat incorporate agreed Australian curriculum content.”  

This Australian Curriculum, as of today (June 16, 2015) has not yet been fully endorsed or rolled out. Yet in January of 2014, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a review of the Australian Curriculum. At that point in time, not all curriculum documents had been written, endorse or rolled out. The results of such a far-reaching review would realistically not be expected for perhaps eighteen months after the announcement, to allow time for a proper establishment of the frame of reference, receipt of submissions from stakeholders, analysis of the data, synthesis of results and formulation of the resulting Review Paper. You would be incorrect in expecting that, as the Mr Pyne released the final report in October 2014

The Twitter conversation that sparked this series of articles included a comment from myself that “…we need an Education Minister who genuinely cares.” This was perhaps rather harsh on my part. I do not doubt that the Mr Pyne cares about his portfolio. The response I received was that “…I would like an Ed Minister (and this is fantasy) who relentlessly and publicly supported the teaching profession.” My immediate thought and my subsequent response to this comment was “…excuse me while I laugh at the absurdity of that ever happening.”

It is sad that the Education Minister is not perceived as being supportive of teachers. It is sad that the immediate response to an expressed desire such as that which was expressed to me is immediately met with sarcastic derision, as that is the perception that successive Education Ministers have fostered about their regard for education and teachers. I am unable to take seriously an Education Minister who instigates a review of a curriculum which has not been fully rolled out, let alone been in place for at least one full calendar year.

I do not know how to repair the relationship between the Education Minister and the teaching profession. I suspect that the views held by Mr Pyne are binary to those held by many teachers. What does need to happen though, is a cessation of Education being used as a political football to score points with the voters with disregard for the impact on the education sector, on students and on teachers.

I would very much like to hear any suggestions as to steps that can be taken to help repair the relationship between the Education Minister and the teaching profession specifically and the education sector in general. Thank you for reading this article, and sticking with me after the mammoth article yesterday. Tomorrow

Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 2)

“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 post regarding ITE and I identified six issues from that conversation that I wanted to address via this blog, which were as follows:

  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

To refresh your memory, here is the conversation:

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

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:

An overview of my undergraduate program.
An overview of my undergraduate program.

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

  • EDUC1008 –  Foundations of Primary and Secondary Education provided an overview of the history of education, introduced pedagogy, Piaget, Vygotsky etc. and gave a good awareness of how the teaching profession has developed. This course should contain, if not a four week professional experience placement as suggested by Corinne Campbell (@corisel) in her reply to my previous article, where she indicated that that was the case in her ITE, but at the very least, a series of classroom observations, or ‘teacher shadowing.’
  • SCIM2030- Foundations in Science and Technology was, from the tutorial point of view, absolutely fantastic. Every tutorial contained hands on activities that were able to be transplanted directly into a primary classroom situation, and I have used many of the experiments we did. There was, however, no mention of the curriculum that I can recall, or see in my notes (yes, I still have all of my undergrad notes). Even being shown how to navigate the curriculum, how to utilise the various aspects would have been useful.
  • HIST1051- The Australian Experience was an interesting course, and the lecturer and tutor knew their content, but again, there was no mention of the curriculum. The exact same course, but with the inclusion of how to teach the History curriculum would have been fantastic.
  • FSHN1021 – Nutrition, Health & Exercise for Primary Educators…was a course that held no value whatsoever for me as an educator. Many of my classmates felt the same way, and we were not shy about saying so in the end-of-course feedback survey. I would scrap it completely, and bring in a course that specifically teaches how to read and utilise the syllabus documents. How to navigate around them, how to link them, understanding the structure and the knowledge and skill continuum.

Year One Semester Two

  • EDUC2744 – K-6 Science and Technology (ten class observation sessions). This was an interesting program and gave us an introduction into K-6 SciTech, however it felt that the relationship between the course and the curriculum were sparse and could have been stronger. It was highly beneficial to be able to engage with a class once a week to observe a teacher in practice, however there needed to be a more rigorous engagement. A full day as opposed to only forty-five minute sessions.
  • LING1110 – Foundations of Language. Linguistics was a highly difficult course and was not one of my finer course results. It was interesting to hear and gain an understanding about how students’ speech should be developing, and how we make different sounds. I suspect that this course would have been more beneficial to those pre-service teachers’ who had a preference for working with infants students.
  • MATH1900 – Elementary Mathematics. This course had mixed reactions among my classmates. Most either very much enjoyed it, or highly disliked it. I personally enjoyed it, and the strategy of having us learn how to conduct the four operations in a variety of number bases to convey the understanding of how difficult our students find it to learn these functions in base-ten was quiet clever. I would have liked to have seen stronger curriculum connections, but otherwise, this course was excellent.
  • AART1010 – Foundations in Creative Arts. This was an interesting course, and as with MATH1900, you either enjoyed it or hated it. The attendance was appallingly low, and the assignments, though engaging and challenging had no basis in the curriculum. This would have been better as an introduction to the Creative Arts curriculum, the continuum of skills and concepts that are addressed therein, and how specific pedagogical techniques for teaching the skills.

Year Two Semester One

  • EDUC2102 – Educational Psychology was a course that, at the time, I found to be quite difficult, and I know there were a few in my cohort who had to re-take the course. It was engaging, but conceptually challenging and I think that it was not until I actually entered the classroom in my first professional experience placement that I really appreciated the learning from this course.
  • EDUC1738 – K-6 English was the first course that really delved into a specific KLA and examined the curriculum document from which that KLA is taught. It could have been strengthened by a more explicit examination of the literacy continuum, and explanation of how the curriculum and the continuum link together.
  • EDUC2185 – Managing K-6 Learning Environment (First four-week professional experience placement) was the course containing our first professional experience placement, which I undertook in a Year Six classroom. The tutorial component contained an examination of different behavioural theorist played out in the classroom. There is not much I would change from this course, except that there was constant miscommunication and inconsistent instructions regarding the assignments between the different tutors.
  • HIST1352 – Australian Government and Politics. This course was an over and above from the program outline and we were offered the course at the end of our first year. We were told that it currently fell under the History umbrella but as of the following year it would fall under the Political Science umbrella. It was a highly interesting course, and focused solely on how our political structure developed. I found it to be highly useful, as I was teaching similar concepts during my professional experience placement at the end of the semester in a Year Six class in preparation for the Canberra excursion.

Year Two Semester Two

  • EDUC2103 – Schooling, Identity and Society was a very engaging course and was very much aimed at developing critical thinking skills, by examining education from a sociological perspective and questioning why are the way they are. I think it would benefit from being a more rigorous examination of how we can explicitly embed teaching for thinking in our pedagogical practice across a variety of domains.
  • EDUC2747 – K-6 PDHPE was our first exposure to an explicit explanation of a syllabus document. The course was highly relevant and the practical components allayed many fears in regards to teaching some skills. I think this would have been better as a replacement for the FSHN1021 course in first year, with this specific course then being an extension and more explicit instruction in pedagogical strategies for both theory and practical components. FSHN1021 perhaps focus on the infants portion of the curriculum and EDUC2747 the primary portion.
  • EDUC3746 – K-6 Society and Environment was a third year course that I pulled forward to second year. It was highly useful, with a high focus on global concepts, and included lots of practical lesson activities and ways to structure units on particular concepts, linking them to other KLAs, mathematics and literacy in particular, but also to Science.
  • EDUC3500 – Aboriginal Education, Policies and Issues  is a course I have mixed feelings about. It was, conceptually, a highly valuable course. In execution however, it left a bit to be desired. I do strongly believe that having a course specifically dealing with strategies for being aware and inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural beliefs, pedagogical strategies required to facilitate high quality learning etc. is of vital importance. For example, I was not aware prior to this course that eye-contact between a ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ in some Aboriginal cultures is offensive and disrespectful. This is, of course, in stark contrast to most of Western society where it is expected that you make eye contact with the person with whom you are speaking as a sign of respect and attention. However the tutors in such courses do need to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent to have any credibility, and they also need to not be condescending towards those of who are not and therefore do not possess the cultural knowledge.

Year Three Semester One

  • EDUC3739 – K-6 Mathematics is a course that I would actually leave as is, other than more explicit connection to the curriculum and numneracy continuum.
  • EDUC3745 – K-6 Creative Arts was an example of the university trying to cram to much content into too small a timeframe. We received one lecture and four x two hour tutorials per strand of Creative Arts; dance, drama, visual art and music, and this course was the sum of our explicit Creative Arts curriculum training. Our lecturers and tutors did their best, and I personally feel they did a good job, but they were not allowed enough time. This course should have been split into two courses with two strands of arts per course to allow a more rigorous engagement with the creative arts, more pedagogical training grounded in the curriculum and a more rigorous analysis of the benfits of creative arts education. I have taken some of the practical tutorials and transplanted them directly into my classes on occasion, but there needed to be more time. Ultimately, this course was an example of the value for arts in education that is held by soiciety.
  • EDUC3026 – Special Education was a very broad brushstrokes introduction to special education. I do not believe that I would change anything in this course, except to remove the pointless online exam, the content of which was not discussed at any point during the course, by design.
  • EDST2090 – Teaching Scientific Literacy was a highly useful course, with lots of practical activities, however it was not, despite it’s name, a course about how to teach scientific literacy. This should either have been an extension of the K-6 Science and Technology course, or what I propose as an explicit thinking for teaching course, with a specific focus on science and technology.
  • MATH2910 – Studying Mathematics with a view to Teaching was the first course in a two-part series. This course challenged us to think about how we actually completed various numeracy functions and explain our processes whilst analysing different strategies.

Year Three Semester Two

  • EDUC3185 – Integrated and differentiated curriculum. This course contained our second four-week professional experience placement, which I completed in a Year One classroom. The theoretical aspect was focused on creating differentiated lessons and I do not believe I would change anything about this course.
  • EDUC4955 – Education Honours I was an introduction to research concepts such as epistemology, ontology, paradigms and included an analysis of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research and the process for forming rigorous and valid research questions. The course was conceptually challenging but it laid important foundations for the subsequent courses.
  • MATH2920 – Working Mathematically was the follow-on from MATH2910 and continued the learning begun there. These two courses introduced practical ways to include student self-assessment and reflection of learning, including challenges and strategies used to overcome them.
  • ENVS2001 – Environmental Concepts: Energy was completed as my sustainable communities elective. It was a very interesting course but completely irrelevant to myself and the only other classmate completing an Education degree. All other classmates were doing Environmental Science degrees. I have no issue with doing a course focused on sustainability, however, the courses offered need to have relevance to education students if they are going to be offered to such. I chose to do this course, as a fifth course this year so as to free up time for my fourth and final year. We had heard throughout the program, that the final year Literacy and Numeracy courses were intensive and required a significant amount of work to get through.
  • EDUC1751 – Knowledge and Communication Technologies was a course that at the time I felt did not provide what it. Offered. Looking back at it now, I realise that it was aimed, in the practical sense, at those classmates who possessed few technology skills. In regards to the theory associated with technology, it was my introduction to TCPK, which has since become a much-utilised framework for technology integration in my lessons. This course was offered in third year but I believe that it would have served better as a first year course to provide a grounding prior to our first professional experience placement. It should also have created a relationship between the teaching of technology or computer skills to students and the curriculum.

Year Four Semester One

  • EDUC4748 – Advanced Literacy was a very intense course, which made me glad that I had put in the effort the previous semester to get through five courses and free up some time this semester. It could have done with being more explicit in the strategies to teach various aspects of literacy such as how to explicitly teach handwriting, or reading skills to those students for whom traditional approaches do not work, rather than creating a presentation for a hypothetical Parent/Teacher evening.
  • EDUC4749 – Advanced Numeracy was very similar to Advanced Literacy, in regards to the intensity of the workload and the learning required. It was highly beneficial, with us examining a NAPLAN test for a student, backward mapping it to the numeracy continuum the mathematics curriculum in order to discern the areas they needed additional assistance in, and then developing an Individual Learning Program to address those areas. I do not believe I would make changes to this particular course.
  • EDUC4965 – Education Honours II was an intense course, as with Honours I. It was highly practical in regards to its application to our Honours Thesis. The two major assignments were, firstly, a presentation of what we were considering doing for our research project in Honours III to our Honours classmates, the Honours course coordinator and some guests from the Education department of the Research Faculty, all of whom provided us with feedback on our proposed research, and then secondly, our research proposal and formal Ethics Application. There was a significant amount of work involved in this course, however I would not change the structure as undertaking this particular course without the framework developed during Honours I would have been a very difficult and de-contextualised task.

Year Four Semester Two

  • EDUC4185 – Teachers, Ethics and Professionalism: K-6 Internship was our final ten week internship, which I completed in a combined Year Five and Six classroom. It was weighted as twenty units and required us to complete the full internship, gradually assuming greater and greater responsibility for the daily operations of the class. I was incredibly fortunate in that he and I ‘clicked’ and it made for a very beneficial, for me, internship experience. My cooperating teacher for this class was the Assistant Principle for the Stage, was highly engaged with technology in the classroom (he was trialing a one-to-one BYOD program with his class. was very rational in his approach to classroom management with the awareness that all behaviours happen for a reason. This internship placement allowed me to engage with BYOD in a genuine manner over a sustained period, introduced me to the SAMR Model (which I have previously written about here and here) and allowed me to consider, for the first time, that I could be both a teacher and an educational researcher.
  • EDUC4990 – Education Honours Course 3 (twenty Units) was the culmination of our Honours, requiring us to conduct the research project, analyse the results and write the twelve thousand word thesis. There was some debate amongst my Honours cohort as to whether we would attempt to stay engaged with our research during our internship, or allow it to sit on the back burner until after the internship. I was doing qualitative research and managed to conduct my participant interviews and transcription of one of them, prior to the commencement of internship. I focused solely on my internship during that ten week period and then had to make the difficult choice of whether or not to accept a month-long block of work in the same school on a Stage Three class at the beginning of Term Four. After discussion with my wife, I made the decision to not take the block, in order to focus on my Thesis, a decision which paid off when I was awarded Class I Honours and the Education Faculty Medal.

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). Amadna advised that Strathclyde University interview for entry to the second year of their ITE program, with questions around the 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 at the bottom of this page.

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, how to and more rigorous and explicit teaching around how to teach the KLAs, and how to program 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 skillset…” (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, for me, exceptionally 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 on WordPress, or over on Twitter (@21stCTeaching). This series will continue with a new article tomorrow, which I will endeavour to keep a shorter length.

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.