Category Archives: teacher education
Next year sees a change for me.
I’m off to teach at an international school in Singapore.
Nevertheless I found myself feeling restless.
Put simply I can hear planes.
Derp Stephanie, you say, your home and school are below a flight path of course you can hear planes.
As a wanderer I know it’s time to leave a place when I can hear planes. It’s a sign that life has become too familiar and too easy. The planes have been loud this year and despite a few trips, my wanderlust has returned with a vengeance and I found myself desperate to move overseas again.
I’m looking forward to joining a PYP school and teaching a different year group.
Of course change comes with a cost.
I will miss my awesome students and their families.
My fantabulous co-workers and also the amazing teachers I’ve had the pleasure of learning with from up and down the country these last 3 years. Despite the bad press this week I can name hundreds of amazing teachers out there doing amazing things in their classrooms every day. What’s even more fantastic is how generous you all are with your knowledge.
One of the delights of being online is that distance is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Though if I do make it to any New Zealand-based educamps in the next few years I am totally calling dibs on the chocolate fish!
I was recently asked by a reader if I could give my tips for surviving teaching placement, practicum, teaching experience. Having gone through the experience myself and having watched two sets of student teachers come into our school, I’m not too far removed but I also get the benefit of seeing part of the other side of the fence. However I’m not at the point where I have enough experience to mentor a student teacher so I can’t give the Associate Teacher’s point of view.
1. You are there to learn
Going into placement you have two what might seem like mutually exclusive goals. On one hand, you want to show what an awesome teacher you are to your Associate Teacher/School and get that elusive permanent teaching job post-graduation. But on the other, you are there to learn. Here’s my advice, stick with the former and the latter will take care of itself. Soak in as much as you can, ask questions, make mistakes. Lots of them. The most important quality student teachers need on placement is teachabilty. Nobody expects you to be perfect when you arrive. Being able to show improvement and take on advice is what will impress your associate teacher.
2. No staying out late on a school night
A student teacher from another institution once showed up to my placement school very hungover. While it’s not against the rules to have late nights on the town, it really isn’t a good look on placement and you will be judged negatively on it.
3. Building relationships with your students
There’s a fine line to be trod between being liked and being respected. Often student teachers try to be buddies with the kids and then find classroom management is a challenge once they take full control. By all means be friendly with your students but remember that this different from being their friend. The kids will test the boundaries just by your mere presence. They’ll want to know if the no-nos with their own teacher are a yes with you. Make sure you find out from your associate how behaviour is managed in your school and if you are unsure in any situation, ask your associate teacher.
4. Observe other teachers doing their thing. Ask them lots of questions.
While the bulk of your time will be spent in your Associate Teacher’s placement, do make sure you that you arrange time to see other teachers doing their thing. If you are teaching juniors, ask to see a Year 5/6 class. If you are at an intermediate, be sure to spend some time in the specialist classes. Ask lots of questions. Teachers by their very nature are usually keen to share their knowledge with others.
5. Keep up with your paperwork
Universities love paper. Every week you’ll likely have some sort of form to fill in to keep your university happy. It’s really important that you familiarise yourself with the paperwork requirements of your placement and make sure that you keep yourself up to date.
6. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity to teach
If a teacher is handing over control of the classroom to you, it means that they trust you. Yes things might go horribly and you will have your share of bad days. Even taking the roll will help you learn and grown into a better teacher. It’s not unheard of for student teachers to be called on to cover a class but strictly speaking you should have a registered teacher in the room with you.
A source of grizzling about student teachers from associates often comes from planning. No teacher will let you in charge of your class without lesson plans. I think some teacher education providers could do a better job of teaching student teachers how to plan a lesson effectively. However to head off uncertainties in planning ask to see your associate teacher’s template early on and adapt that (with permission) for your planning.
8. Be Professional
In essence your placement is an extended job interview. Dress professionally, be on time, attend all staff meetings. Try and schedule a meeting with the principal of your school during placement. Make sure you have questions prepared in advance to make the most of the meeting.
9. You’re going to get sick
There’s no nice way of saying this schools are vectors of disease. At some point you will get heinously ill and most likely at the most inopportune time.
10. Thank you
It goes without saying that you need to thank your school and associate teacher for the placement. A small gift and a heart-felt card for your associate is probably a good idea. Some sort of morning tea or some offering of food wouldn’t go amiss either.
Anymore tips for would-be teachers?
On a sunny afternoon this week I ventured out with the rest of the teachers in my school to take part in a cricket skills workshop. I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of spending time learning about cricket. I’m an avid gym goer and for the life of me can’t understand the reason why people would want to spend hours running around after a ball. Nevertheless, PE is an important part of the curriculum so off I trudged in the summer heat to learn more about cricket.
The workshop itself taught us just a few basic skills to get us started but there was something about learning how to throw, bat, catch and run between the wickets that seem to re-energize even the most adverse of ball sport participants. Which was the primary purpose of the workshop. If I’m not enthused about the prospect of ball sports, that attitude is going to show in my teaching. I can still cover the material but there’s no way I can fake passion.
One cricketing skills workshop hasn’t changed my outlook on ball sports nevertheless I did throughly enjoy myself. It wasn’t the game itself, but being outside with teachers learning a new skill, laughing at my own and others follies and getting some exercise that I really enjoyed. Cricket in this case just happened to be the medium but it could easily have been bullrush, flying kites or even catching bubbles.
As I was leaving the field I quietly mused how much we underestimate the importance of play in school. We know that play helps foster creativity, perseverance and team work in both adults in child. Yet is play something we value in schools?
To be sure most schools have play time. But isn’t the very fact that we need schedule time for the kids to play outside the classroom show how we little value play in learning?
Do we play with ideas or concepts or in the rush to make sure we cover all the necessary parts of the curriculum do we miss out time for ‘unproductive’ play?
Does teachers professional learning reflect the importance of play? How often do you play games or hear laughter during your professional learning? How much of your professional learning happens outside?
Because really shouldn’t learning be an excuse to eat an ice block for dinner?
Leave your clever at home – Conference presentations are often a great opportunity to highlight something successful that you’ve undertaken which can be applied to my class. But what is more awesome is when you talk about the difficulties and outright failures as a result of changing the way you do things. That way when us mere mortals listening to your implement ideas in our own class, we’ll know that we are going to have a few weeks of chaos during the implementation phase and it’s probably going to suck.
Embrace the messiness of learning – Yes I am one of those people conference organisers love to hate as I frequently didn’t show up to the sessions I booked. All of a sudden the person who sends out awesome tweets seems like a far more interesting and engaging option than a world-renowned expert I just had to see three months ago. Likewise a serendipitous meeting during drinks or on a plane or even a recommendation from someone else might see me wandering into different rooms.
Technology shouldn’t be used to replicate what we’ve always done - Twitter is like passing notes in class only way more awesome. While tweeting out quotable quotes from presentations and keynotes is good for those not attending the event to get a small window into the conference, more importantly twitter gives passive listeners a chance to respond to speakers in real time. Instead of sitting in a keynote silently seething at ideas I felt were wrong, I used twitter to connect with other attendees to respond to the ideas being pushed by the speaker. Post-conference drinks were easily organised by just tweeting out a time and place.
Collaboration makes things so easier – At the start of each keynote I watched as the twitter fairies came in and starting adding background information and links to other sessions on the keynote google doc making it look I had done far more work than simple note-taking. Bonus points go to the presenters and speakers who were using social media to connect with speakers before, after and during sessions. Could there be a conference wiki for people to add resources to one main point?
Make learning visible – From my own experience I know that students want to know what ‘good’ looks like, they borrow ideas. Do our current information systems, which are based on one account per child, actually achieving this? Is cybersaftey killing learning opportunities by keeping kids atomised even within their own class? Do we give multiple ways for kids to demonstrate learning new concepts outside of writing it down?
The importance of play – We know that sit down lectures are actually a really inefficient way to learn yet how much of conference is spent sitting around listening to lectures? What if the conference speakers flipped their instruction or had learning tasks for the audience to complete? What if conferences were more like school?
This is a copy of my verbal submission that I made to the education and science select committee into digital learning. I was inspired to make a submission after attending the ignition unconference at Albany Senior High earlier this year.
Firstly I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.
Today I would like to highlight five key points from my submission which I believe are important priorities to aid the evolution of 21st century learning.
- Initial Teacher Education
- Personal Learning Communities
- Agile Learning Spaces
- Moving beyond cyber-safety
Although the graduating teachers standards mention that those entering the teaching profession should be proficient in the use ICT that is not the same as being a competent e-learning classroom practitioner.
I think there is some what of a dangerous assumption that because younger teachers as a group tend own gadgets and have social media accounts they automatically know how to implement e-learning into the classroom. This is not the case. So much of my e-learning practice has been developed through interacting and observing other teachers particularly through social media. However I don’t feel that this kind of learning is valued within a university context.
In my experience initial teacher education in New Zealand has not evolved with the times. Trainee teachers spend too much time filing paperwork in ring binders and if they are lucky they might get a lecture or two on e-learning before they graduate. Thus e-learning at this level is reliant on a student teacher being placed with an associate who understands how to use technology in the classroom.
Once teachers get out into the workforce, they need ongoing professional learning. 21st century learning calls for active participation yet how many educators are still consigned to sitting politely in rooms and conference theatres listening to experts, some of whom may not have been in the classroom for many years. Educators need time and space to develop personal learning communities that go beyond their staffroom to help bring new ideas into their classroom.
With the help of my iphone I can pinch an idea for lesson from a classroom blog in Australia, save a professional reading from a teacher in the UK and have conversation about teaching with someone in the United States during my 20 minute train ride to Tawa. We need to broaden our thinking about where and how learning can occur not only for students but the teachers tasked with educating them.
Most of our learning spaces were designed in an era with the dominant pedagogy was that students need to sit in one place, ideally in front of board soaking up knowledge, in order to learn. Learning has changed and so too should the design of our classrooms.
Rather than talk about flexible spaces I prefer the term agile. Agile means that the classroom can be constantly being configured and reconfigured to suit the needs of the students within it. Over the last set of holidays I quietly stashed half the classroom desks in various nooks and crannies around the school and replaced them with a couple of round tables, buckets for students to put their gear, some cushions and a couple of bean bags creating a huge amount of space.
If the students want to collaborate they can do so, if they want to curl up in the corner to read they can do that too. The creation of our modern learning spaces can be done with a modicum of cash, a bit of creative thinking and school leadership that supports innovation in all its weird and wonderful forms. Am I a supporter of team teaching? Absolutely teachers need to be learning from each other.
One of the elephants in the room is assessment. We cannot build and educational system for the 21st century while using 19th century tools to assess student learning.
In selecting their representatives to talk to you today my class didn’t tell their peers to sit an examination on the content of their video. Instead they asked their nominees to give a speech in front of the class and invited the principal along so they could assess nominees’ public speaking skills and how well they could handle pressure. In short my 11 and 12 year old students have already figured out a critical flaw in our education system: our tools for formal assessment frequently don’t test all the qualities we wish to develop in our learners.
Given the amount of bad news we hear about cyber-bullying and inappropriate use of technology, I can understand why it is so easy for those in education to put up walls and demand that devices stay in bags. However within this context the computer is just an overpriced pencil. It is the interaction between people whether they are sitting beside each other half a world a way which for me makes e-learning so amazing.
Just like in Maths and PE, students need their teachers to guide and model good behaviour. By taking a hands-off and punish approach we deny our learners the chance to develop as cyber citizens.
E-learning is not just about bringing the world into our classroom but bringing our classrooms into the world. The submission project that Room 15, my fabulous group of learners, created is an example of the power of what technology can do.
My students got a chance to create work for an authentic audience, they were able to connect with experts outside our school community through my learning network and share what they have been doing so that they can inspire others. 21st century takes students beyond the role of being passive consumers of knowledge and enables them to be confident creators as well.
We are ⅛ of the way through the 21st century, isn’t time 21st century learning became the norm not the exception?
A few weeks ago, I was at meeting where the presenter remarked to the largely teacher audience that we would have to excuse her creative right-brain tendencies during her presentation.
I’ve been ruminating about this off-hand remark for weeks, the idea that teaching isn’t a particularly creative profession. Certainly when we think of creative fields, design, art, music, film, writing and even science probably figure a lot more prominently in people’s minds than education.
Yet when we think of great teachers, and more importantly see representations of great teachers in the media, creativity is a common trait along with a commitment to education that goes beyond thinking of teaching as a job.
And I think there’s something in the idea that when we invest our creativity into an activity, our feelings about it change.
Is that why schools and by extension teachers are often viewed so negatively by society? Because they are seen as being places that kill creativity.
In one of TED’s most popular talks, Sir Ken Robinson argued that our educational systems have perpetuated a crisis of creative thought as students get their creativity taught out of them, time and again, in a systematic fashion.
So in many ways I don’t think the presenter of my workshop was entirely off-base when she assumed that teachers are detail-orientated types who love nothing more than flicking our red pens over spelling mistakes and making sure that our students pull their socks up. After all, I doubt many people would list a teacher among the creative people they’ve met. Maybe an art or music teacher might make the grade; maybe that one special teacher who marched to his or her own tune. But in general teachers are viewed as a uncreative bunch.
Certainly Sir Ken is right that part of the problem is undoubtedly inherent in our educational system. Schools are institutions which come with regulations and organisational hierarchies that often don’t sit well with creative-types. Because another central theme in the superhero teacher narrative is that this subset of teachers are frequently disruptive to school culture and often find themselves on the losing side of clashes with school authorities.
John Keating got pushed out in the Dead Poets Society as did Katherine Watson in Mona Lisa Smile. Real-life teachers Erin Gruwell and Jamie Escalante clashed with administrators over pedagogy in their films and in a nod to my friend @apathyjack, Dr Cox would have lasted all of five minutes in a school setting.
Perhaps it is this conflict between creative individuals and existing systems which is the reason that creativity isn’t something that is valued in the selection of would-be teachers nor much in teacher education programmes. Yet we can’t expect our educational systems to produce creative concept-driven thinkers if we don’t also have creative teachers in the classroom. However in my experience there is far more emphasis put on developing teachers as managers of classroom learning rather than as creative professionals.
One of the scary implications of the rise of Kahn Academy is that teachers don’t have the inclination nor interest to become competent producers of content – digital or otherwise – in their own right. I’ve had a couple of people remark to me that they can’t understand why I’m not in the film industry because of the video content that my class and I produce. Yet I don’t consider myself in away a proficient digital story teller. In fact most of my ideas are frequently stolen from others.
And I think that’s part of the problem. Teachers themselves often don’t view themselves as being creative, they think they merely reuse and adapt the ideas of others. What we often forget is that creativity isn’t a lone flash of insight but actually the adaptation of existing ideas to new contexts. It’s taking a reading programme and changing it to fit the needs of your learners. It’s turning a bucket into a place to store student gear.
Would schools function well if they were full of creative-types? I know I am a terrible when it comes to anything remotely admin-related. Collecting forms, organizing learning portfolios, policing uniform, even remembering to take the roll are tasks that are forever tripping me up and I hate doing them. What’s more standards and exams can also be rightly pointed to as constraints on teacher creativity.
But the thing is that creative professionals are always working within constraints. In fact creativity is often defined by the constraints in which it transpires. But even if you hypothetically swept away National Standards, NCEA and other traditional boogeymen of classroom creativity what would teachers do? Are teachers on the whole prepared to move forward as creative professionals?
If teaching is a creative profession how do we develop the creativity of our future teachers? How do we attract creative people to enter teaching? When and where, if ever, do teachers come to recognize themselves as creative professionals? How do we develop creativity in the teaching profession?
I graduated today. This should have been a happy occasion, a celebration of slogging out a tough course. But instead the mood was a mood of despondency among many of the those who graduated today. Many didn’t show up.
There are no teaching jobs.
Horror stories quickly start to emerge. Hundreds applicants applying for a single position. Graduates with straight As posting off dozens of CVs to not get a single call for an interview. I’m defintely more of the exception rather than rule as a member of the class of 2011 who started the 2012 with a full-time permanent position.
However I worked hard to secure it.
My mother, who is also a teacher, looked on slightly bemused last year as I filled out lenghty application forms built e-portfolios mumbling how much things had changed since her day when teacher trainees were pretty much guaranteed a job at graduation. Of course back in the 1970s there was also country service which Dad had to write a letter to get my Mum exempted.
But the surprising thing about the employment market as it stands in 2012 is that even students studying in the provincial areas are having the same problem.
No teaching jobs.
I understand that we don’t want just anyone in our classrooms.
It should be hard to find a teaching position. I like that it is hard. To be deemed worthy enough to be responsible for a class of learners should be viewed by society as an accomplishment.
But it should not be this hard.
I’m hazarding a guess that maybe around 40% of the students at best have actual teaching jobs from my course and at least half of those teachers are fixed-term contracts. Given that the government plans to increase class sizes in the next fiscal year, teachers on fixed-term contracts (many of whom are first and second year teachers) have a strong likelihood of finding themselves unemployed at the end of the school year just as the next batch of students start graduating.
And that’s just students from the 2011 Graduate Diploma from University on the Hill.
There are also the three year BEds who don’t have permanent teaching jobs and there will be similar refrains heard from the 17 institutions up and down the country.
No teaching jobs.
Some teachers are going the relieving route but New Zealand is now in the process of losing these teachers overseas, to early childhood and to other professions. I can’t help but rage at the massive waste of resources, not only in terms of the time and money of the students, but also in government money that we are training so many teachers for jobs that simply don’t exist.
The joke will be on us in a few years wondering why the people we are investing thousands of dollars in don’t stay in New Zealand to teach or are not teaching at all. One of the reasons?
No teaching jobs.
What I don’t understand is how this situation was allowed to happen.
The number of teacher education providers and courses has exploded in the last decade or two, particularly at the primary level. I know that last year had the lowest number of teaching positions advertised and that during a recession teaching is a safe port in the storm. But my gut feeling is that the employment market for teachers shouldn’t be nearly this imbalanced.
Most of the teacher education providers in this country are state institutions and 85% of New Zealand students attend a state school. It shouldn’t be that hard for some policy wonk in the Ministry of Education to wor out that we have a massive mismatch between the number of graduating teachers our system is churning out and the number of positions actually up for grabs.
The parting piece of job-hunting advice my course-mates and I were given was to hang tight as the bulge of older teachers start to retire in the next 5-10 years and a bulge of students start to hit. But with student loans to repay and that small matter of eating and paying rent, graduating teachers don’t have the luxury of waiting out the tight employment market in the hope that might get a job in a few years once older teachers start retiring.
Which is why I don’t understand why the government is putting another $60 million into recruitment and teacher education. There is no shortage of graduating teachers. We have a glut. And that glut should translate into higher-quality teachers according to the world of market economics.
But there is one small problem with this theory.
At the moment teachers have protections which prevent them from being unfairly dismissed. Which explains the sudden myopic focus on teacher quality.
In the context of cutting education spending the superhero teacher line that keeps getting bandied about actually has little to do with quality teaching. Instead it is a way to manufacture a crisis in education to justify forcing older, more
experienced expensive teachers out of the New Zealand system in favour of bright young things cheaper teachers with little or no teacher education. If schools are forced to ‘compete’ for teaching talent through paying higher salaries for expertise and experience, one guess which schools will find themselves with more bargaining power.
I’m not saying that experienced teachers are inherently better teachers and that New Zealand’s teacher education is perfect. But as a first-year teacher I also know the importance of having great mentors and people you can turn to for advice not only for teaching but also for resolving incidents of bullying, managing relationships with our students’ parents and also coping with tough emotional issues that our students bring with them to class. But I have the luxury of an actual teaching position when I know for many of the course mates professional oversight is just not an issue.
They just want to enter the teaching profession.
Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who is concerned that over the coming years we are going to watch the destruction of all that is good about the New Zealand schooling system as teachers and schools squabble for an ever declining poll of resources. It is easy to see New Zealand going down the American path where jobs, bonuses and student progression are based on shonky ‘data’ that has little do with student learning and more to do with abstract economic models dreamed up by people who have no experience in the classroom.
Instead of jubilation there was a mood of quiet resignation from many of the members of the teaching community who graduated today. Far too many of my fellow graduates just spent a year of their life and $7,000 learning to teach only to see it put to waste.
But we are only one pixel of a wider picture of educational deform.
I’ve been scratching my head for sometime trying to work out why people think it would be a good idea to put a bunch of untrained yet high achieving university graduates into low-decile schools. But since there is a bit of a media love-fest in progress for Teach First New Zealand I’ve been prompted to write about the topic.
I’m dumbfounded by the logic that requiring our educators to be less educated is a good thing. No sane person would set foot on an aircraft with a pilot who aced physics and had a 6 weeks in a flight simulator, pay money for legal advice from someone who did well in political studies, or let someone with good grades in biology and pair of pliers do some dentistry work unless they were pretty desperate. So to take a person who is academically successful and stick them in a boot camp for 6 weeks before putting them in a position where they are responsible for a class of children should be setting off major alarm bells in most people’s heads. Shouldn’t people who want to be in the education game be committed to educating themselves on how to be a good teacher before jumping into a classroom?
On one level I get it.
The best way to learn to be a teacher is to be out in the classroom teaching. But on another level I see value in gaining knowledge in learning theories, child development, classroom management, assessment techniques and developing a reflective practice before being let loose in a classroom. After all it took 6 months of pretty intense study for me to get my head around the idea that this teaching business is not really about the teaching it is about the learning. I also know people doing the 3 year degree must scratch their heads in wonder at how those in the graduate diploma manage to squeeze learning how to be a teacher into a year-long condensed course and on occasion I’ve agreed with them.
But how we train teachers is a diversion from a far deeper issue and it took me a while to work out what makes me so uncomfortable about the ‘place a high achieving graduate in a poor school’ idea and then I worked out.
What this scheme says to our recent graduates is ‘your knowledge is so important to the education system that you get to bypass all the work we make these other clowns do and parachute you straight into the classroom because we need you right now.’ In essence they receive a ‘get out of jail free’ card in which they are entitled to bypass teacher training collecting their $200 as they pass go under the ‘Aura of selectivity’ as Teach First New Zealand calls it.
But hang on.
This sounds a bit like sour grapes from someone who probably doesn’t have smarts to be selected into such a prestigious programme. The graduates selected into these schemes are the best and brightest graduates and they want to help reduce educational inequality why wouldn’t we want them in the classroom?
The answer to that question depends on what kind of knowledge you value.
Let’s change the goalposts on this conversation for a minute.
Suppose tomorrow the government announced the following: “we want every child in New Zealand to learn Te Reo Maori. We don’t have enough teachers of Te Reo and our current teaching workforce’s grasp of the language really isn’t up to standard. So we will get a bunch of highly proficient speakers of Te Reo who haven’t trained as teachers and put them into our nation’s classrooms so that our children can learn the official language of New Zealand.”
I can already hear the howls of opposition to such an idea emanating from the talkback radio stations on this idea: ‘Learning Maori is a waste of time. It’s a dead language and no way is some untrained teacher getting near my kids. This is PC gone mad!’
But somehow sending a bunch of high-achieving university graduates into schools with, lets face it, a disproportionate number of Maori and Pasifika students is seen as ok because it is for the kids’ own good. Wouldn’t the answer be that we need more Maori and Pasifika teachers who will spend more than just two years in the classroom? Because judging from similar schemes overseas the graduates parachuted into the classrooms of the poor don’t come from the communities that they wish serve.
In fact this scheme has the potential to make the problem of educational inequality a lot worse. The kids in Epsom get qualified and experienced teachers while the kids I went to school end up with a revolving door system of untrained grads pumped up on slogans like ‘poverty is not destiny.’ This is true if the grads are saying that it is possible for some to overcome the effects of poverty, but not true if they are saying that teachers alone — and untrained teachers at that — have the power to do this. To me this is a failure of our public system that our ‘high flying’ graduates can spend 13 years in public education and not understand the causes of educational inequality go beyond teachers simply having high expectations because New Zealand schools and their communities have become so segregated by income and – yes lets address the elephant in the room- race.
I’m sure most of the graduates’ intentions are right, wanting to help, but you’ll excuse me if I’m a little cynical about what the motivations of the scheme’s backers really are. Is it really about closing the educational gap or is it about a broader agenda of getting the ‘right people‘ into the school system to pursue an agenda that the current teaching profession in New Zealand opposes; the introduction of the American-style corporate reforms of high-stakes testing for primary school kids, charter schools,
performance test-result-based pay for teachers, a narrowing of the curriculum and the closure of large numbers of ‘low performing’ public schools.
Because looking beyond the hype:
1. Far from a shortage there’s actually a glut of qualified beginning teachers looking for work. Most of the students from my course are still looking for teaching jobs which at this time of year means they don’t have a full-time teaching position for 2012 school year.
2. Teaching qualification programmes for graduates only take a year to complete. There are some not particularly generous scholarships available for teachers in areas like maths and science plus the graduate bonding scheme offers almost $20,000 in additional payments if teachers stay at least 5 years in some low-decile schools.
3. The recruits for Teach First only sign up for two years before they are free to pursue careers presumably at the corporate sponsors of the scheme. Our current system of teacher registration in New Zealand recognizes than even qualified teachers need support in the early years of teaching to become effective in the classroom. The commitment for Teach First ends just at the point when some teachers will be starting to hit their stride.
Do our neediest kids really need people who are only in the classroom as a two year OE in Otara before moving to glass offices in central Auckland?
I do agree with Teach First that teaching should be right up there with other professions as an attractive option for graduates. It annoys me to no end when I read the stories that pop up at this time of year about kids who have done exceptionally well in exams almost always have their sights set on doing law or possibly medicine at university. Why not teaching?
Part of the reason is money.
I have an Honours degree and my Teaching Diploma which equates to five years of full-time university study, two at graduate level, and have/will repay in excess of $30,000 on my student loan. I could have paid that loan off a lot faster in other professions not to mention the opportunity costs of a salary scale where I will hit the top pay rate in 5-6 years. Suffice to say that top rate doesn’t compare favourably to similarly-qualified jobs however finding the moments of teaching magic is why I’m in the classroom.
What scares me about Teach First New Zealand is that they are in effect saying to all aspiring teachers, not to mention the general public, that learning how to be a good teacher really isn’t that important. All teachers need is some innate talent and high expectations so that we can flip open these kids heads and shove it in and hey presto educational success! I haven’t been out in the sector long enough to say it with any authority but I don’t think that approach works. Because if it did, teachers and schools as we know it would have become redundant not long after Marconi developed the radio. All a learner would need to do is simply tune in to hear from an expert and they would learn too.
I really hate to snarl at people who are trying to help and I don’t doubt that the teachers who are selected will do a good job. After all they will be hand-picked out of likely hundreds of applications to ensure success and presumably will have a lot of support to do so. Because even with a year-long formal teaching credential and supervised student teaching under my belt, I know I still have a lot to learn about educating kids. I’m not sure what anyone could pick up in just six weeks to become an effective teacher of children living in New Zealand’s most deprived neighbourhoods by the time term 1 rolls around in 2013.
The question that needs to be asked is going down this road of de-professionalizing teaching in order to attract ’talent’ into our schools really a good use of educational resources?
Because there seems to be an awful lot of money going into a scheme that places a very small number of people into the profession but does little to keep them there over the long-term. In fact looking beyond the spin that’s found in the media Teach First describes itself as a ‘leadership development programme’ which suggests that building a capable teaching workforce in New Zealand is actually of secondary importance to the organisation. I’m at a loss as to why anyone would think our neediest kids should be subjected to untrained graduates developing their ‘leadership skills’ when they should have as of right highly qualified and competent teachers in their classrooms.
This scheme looks at best self-serving, at worst down right exploitative of the kids at the bottom of the heap.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 7.c
“Graduating Teachers are able to articulate and justify an emerging personal, professional philosophy of teaching and learning.”
What my Diploma in Teaching helped me Learn
And as of 2.13pm on Thursday I’m done.
When I enrolled in this diploma almost 12 months ago I thought I was training to be a teacher. Little did I know 11 months later I think of myself more as a learner.
But that’s not the only thing that changed.
This time last year I was in a profoundly unhappy place in my life. When the clock struck midnight for 2011 I wasn’t all that psyched about the year ahead. I thought my studies would be something to be endured not enjoyed. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a teacher.
How wrong I was.
For me there is nothing more amazing than seeing a group of kids take an idea and making it more awesome than I ever could imagine. This year I watched the year 8 class I was placed with take a discussion of leadership and turning it into a bollywood inspired flashmob on the school field and the juniors in the next Teaching Experience take a simple maths warm up and turn it into a powerful learning moment. I may have struggled a lot to find those teachable moments but finding them is, to quote the amazing @annekenn, MAGIC!
So there’s the first important lesson I’ve learned this year, we all need some magic in our lives.
The second is the importance of people.
Over the course of the year I’ve watched the network of people supporting my learning transmorgifiy from a couple of friends and classmates to a global network of hundreds of teachers.
I’ve been humbled at how unbelievably generous the innovate educators I’ve met both virtually and in real life have been with their knowledge. I want to thank you all, especially the ones who gave up their time to give me advice online and more importantly in real life. Your generosity has been life changing and something that I will forever be indebted to each and everyone of you for. I can’t bake you all a cupcake but I can promise to Pay it forward.
In fact I’ve already started.
I’ve always said from the outset that purpose of this blog share my experiences for the benefit of others. I don’t pretend to be an expert at anything except being a student teacher in New Zealand.
But I think there is a need for more of this sort of sharing.
The most popular post on this blog is the Graduating Teacher Standards E portfolio which attracts a steady stream of visitors looking information about the standards and they end up here. They might not be commenting but my site statistics tell me that they are out there.
If there is one lesson teachers, student or otherwise, could take from my work this year it would that I think more teachers need to tell our stories and make our learning visible. More importantly we need to share the experiences of our students beyond the walls of our classrooms and borders of our nations.
As I look towards the future of education in New Zealand I can see the storm clouds of educational reform gathering overhead. I often find myself getting pessimistic at the current state of what often passes for education debate in this country. I ponder why policy makers in particular seem so determined to not listen to the very people working in the educational system and I start thinking that the work that teachers do just isn’t that important.
But perhaps it is.
This Tuesday I watched my reflection on the introduction of charter schools generate nearly 1,000 hits to this site in a day. At the time of writing this post has generated almost 1,300 hits and is now the second most popular on the blog. I don’t pretend my post made a huge difference, it’s just a small ding in a wider debate.
But then I’m just one student teacher.
There are of others of course.
But what if more teachers stood up and said pay attention, this is important work, this is hard and, at times, frustrating work but we’re not sitting around on our hands waiting for permission to do things differently.
What if we declared that our voices matter?
Because despite the best efforts of those outside the system to bring about change, ultimately the most effective educational reform will come from within.
I speak of the amazing power that the internet and mobile learning has to revolutionize and personalize education.
I know that there are still plenty of doubters out there wondering what the value is in students spending time in front of a screen during class. Some of this resistance may come from not knowing how to use the internet for learning. More likely stems from the fear that teachers might soon be replaced by a computer. I guess that’s natural when you feel threatened you retreat to what you know.
Ultimately our future depends on teachers embracing this new way of learning but more importantly new ways of engaging with our community. I just hope education doesn’t have to hit rock bottom to find the courage to change.
Which brings me to the final lesson I’ve learned this year, the importance of failure. I’ve lamented in the past that our society doesn’t do well with failure. We don’t speak of our own setbacks hiding them away in places we hope others can’t find them. Yet learning how to the heed the lessons when life doesn’t go to plan is by far the most important qualification I will ever gain.
When I look at my first post I’m reminded of the starting point of the journey wasn’t all that great. 2009 was a horrible year and despite the grand world trip, 2010 wasn’t that much better. But the bonus of the setbacks I faced during those two years was a stripping away of the inessential in my life.
I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than who I was, and began to direct all my energy into the only work that I had enjoyed doing, teaching. Had the setbacks of the last two years not occurred, I might never have found the courage to change course nor the determination to succeed. As my studies draw to a close I find myself ending this year feeling happier and more excited about the possibilities in life than I’ve felt in years. That is the power that learning has to transform lives.
Of course the end of one journey is really just beginning of another. I might not know where I am going but the purpose of this post is to document how I’ve come to this point.
Therefore it seems fitting that I dedicate this, my last post as a student teacher, to The Child, who turned 8 yesterday. Happy birthday kiddo. I miss you heaps and love you lots.
“Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles.”
Like many teachers I’m astounded by the National’s Party’s plan to test aspiring teacher’s personality. Is the party’s answer to every problem in education to test students? However the rest of the party’s teacher education policy, behind the more headline-grabbing ideas is well worth an examination.
The first is the party’s plans to make teaching a post-graduate only qualification. At the moment there are two routes into teaching. The 3 year undergraduate degree which a lot of primary school teachers study and the 1 year graduate diploma. Massey University has already jumped the gun and is planning to disestablish the four year direct-entry Bachelor of Education degree. This policy isn’t particularly new. It stems from recommendations made by the Education Workforce Advisory Report which was released in April last year.
Interestingly Singapore also has gone through a process of reviewing teacher education. What struck me about the Singaporean report was that there was a clear vision of what they wanted for their kids and then looked at how teacher education programmes could help teachers to develop their professional capabilities in response to this need. In contrast the New Zealand version is woeful both in terms of overall vision and the research to back up the report’s recommendations. .
This makes me think that the move to making teaching a graduate-only qualification has more to do with
productivity cost-cutting than any real desire to improve teacher education or elevate the the profession. As the OECD notes in report about the American system
“the best-performing countries are working to move their initial teacher-education programmes towards a model based less on preparing academics and more on preparing professionals in clinical settings, in
which they get into schools earlier, spend more time there and get more and better support in the process.”
So why are cutting back on the very degrees that offer clinical support? Because graduate diplomas are a lot cheaper for universities to run as the students are still at varsity studying for 4 years but the institution don’t have to maintain a large Faculty of Education to support the staffing demands of the Bachelor of Education.
What should concern everyone is that this potential narrowing of the curriculum for our would-be teachers. As it stands you don’t have time to study a large amount of child psychology, pedagogy or assessment theory in the 1 year course. Moreover at the primary level there isn’t much time to plug any gaps a student might have in their content knowledge. Given the breadth of the New Zealand curriculum, particularly at primary level, this is concerning.
But what is more concerning is that party supports putting graduates without any teaching qualifications into classrooms. I’ve already written about Teach First New Zealand a scheme where ‘high achieving’ graduates will be teaching in the classrooms of ‘low status‘ (their language) secondary schools after 6 weeks training for a period of two years. National has earmarked $200,000 towards supporting. Not much in the grand scheme of things but we’ll be hearing a lot more about this programme in the coming years.
The scheme is modeled on similar ones in the United States and United Kingdom and it is worth noting that both countries score lower on international student achievement studies than New Zealand. The research into direct-entry teaching schemes shows that teachers coming out of the programmes are less effective in the classroom and leave the profession at higher rates than rates than teachers who go through teacher certification programmes however these gaps close once the teachers become certified.
Nevertheless the introduction of the scheme has been hailed by many players inside and outside the education system. On first glance it has a nice narrative, high-achieving graduates who would otherwise be destined for the glass towers of Shortland Street riding into to save poor children for two years under the banner of educational equity. But when you look at the wider picture things come unstuck. There are hundreds of qualified teachers already looking for work which begs the question why we need to be placing unqualified teachers in classroom. Moreover the experience overseas shows that the teachers don’t come from the communities they teach and the two year commitment means they necessarily stick around much after their tenure is over. This makes the scheme look at best self-serving at worst down-right exploitative.
Given the small number of teachers (just 20 a year for the next 5 years) and large amount of private funding that appears to be supporting the initiative Teach First New Zealand, I’m sure the programme will be successful in terms of its stated goal of being an exclusive recruitment programme for recent graduates who will use the scheme as stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Unfortunately the type of educational leaders that theses schemes spawns are well, kind of evil. They are the type of ‘leaders,’ and I do use the term loosely, who take pleasure in using test scores to label schools as failing and see that as some kind of success rather than their failure to lead. And unfortunately they are the ones Tolley is talking to.
I’m sure detractors would argue I just another lazy teacher looking to avoid any sort of accountability in my job. Let me be clear that the type of accountability measures National are introducing are great if you want conformity and control. But if you after things like engagement and creativity, which is what you want if your goal is to keep kids interested in learning, then these sort of measures actually impede that goal.
There is also a nasty undertone from National that teachers are there primarily to serve the interests of the parents and that value-added incentives are the way to get there. This move is designed to pit parents against teachers and teacher against each other rather than trying to encourage a partnership so that we can all do the best for the kids (whose voices are almost completely absent from educational policy debates).
Least I be accused of being just another lefty teacher. Not all of National’s policies are bad. Their plans to rejuvenate school buildings are good and I’m cautiously optimistic about the Network for Learning. It’s just a shame that the money they are spending on 21st century buildings and technology will be wasted due to 19th century pedagogy and a smattering of colonial do-goodism thrown in for good measure.