Saturday, August 14, 2010

Allan Peachey: Bulk Fund Schools for Teacher Recruitment and Training

The thoughts for this article flashed into my mind when I began a talk at one of the retirement villages that are located in the electorate of Tamaki that I have been elected to represent in Parliament. (Yes, I am an Electorate MP, not a List MP. I put great emphasis on the difference.) I began my talk by paying tribute to a resident of the retirement village who had been a school teacher; in fact who had taught me social studies and geography at Ruapehu College, Ohakune, way back in the 1960s when I was 14/15 years of age. I described him as “a teacher who knew stuff, more than we his pupils (yes we were pupils in those days, not students) knew, who was really interesting to listen to and learn from, and who was superbly well organised”.

I should also note that he was a keen runner who by his own example, encouraged youngsters like myself into cross country running. Throughout my years in teaching and principalship I never thought there was much more to teaching than that.
Anyway, while I was doing that the Government report released recently called “A Vision for the Teaching Profession” flashed through my mind momentarily. And it was only momentary because my audience and I were quickly into a question and answer session which covered everything from ETS to tax reform, to reviving the New Zealand economy and a range of other things as well.

“A Vision for Teaching” includes, amongst other things, recommendations for teacher training. I don’t propose to use this commentary to comment on that, rather I want to offer what would be my approach to teacher recruitment and training.

School Principals should be responsible to the Boards of Trustees that employ them for the employment of teachers. Different Boards allow differing levels of autonomy in the appointment of teachers. The problem is that the people responsible for the employment of teachers in a school (Boards and Principals) have to select from a pool of trained teachers who have been selected to train as teachers by other people. That is a problem, the people who employ teachers are not the people deciding who should be trained as teachers. In my own days as a Principal, with considerable delegated authority to employ, I used to object to the lack of say that I had in who was being chosen for teaching. It seemed to me at the time, and I doubt things have changed today, that the qualities that a person needs to be selected for teacher training and to successfully complete a teacher training programme (let’s start with acute sensitivity to political correctness and representation of particular ethnic or gender groups or sexual persuasions) are not necessarily the same qualities that we need to be a successful classroom teacher (know “stuff”, be interesting and be superbly well organised).

Before I come to my solution let me address another point. That is “are teachers born or made”? To answer to that is simple. Some people are indeed born teachers, just as some people are, for example, born athletes. They instinctively know how to make knowledge interesting, how to break a body of knowledge down to its simplest parts and build it up again as a youngster’s understanding develops. They know how to organise themselves, other people and teaching materials in such a way that their lack of organisation is not a factor in why students are not learning. Never ever underestimate the influence that teacher organisation has on the extent to which youngsters learn. And they get on with people.

Other people can be made into good teachers. It takes an experienced eye to identify those people who with good leadership and mentoring and role modelling from principals and senior teachers can be turned into good teachers. I have lost count of the number of times that I employed people who others said were too quiet or unassuming, or too shy (and in some cases too little) to be successful teachers only to see them turn into real dynamos in a classroom. I wonder how many people have missed out on selection for teacher training and therefore on the opportunity of being employed as a teacher and being made into a good teacher, because somebody who has never had the responsibility of employing teachers and leading them and developing them and holding them responsible for the extent to which they make youngsters learn, has judged them as being too quiet, too unassuming or too shy to be teachers.

So what would I do? I would take the hundreds of millions of dollars that the New Zealand taxpayer is spending on teacher recruitment and training and turn it over to school Boards and Principals. I would bulk fund schools for teacher recruitment and training based on the size of their school roll. I would allow schools to recruit direct from university graduates and put in place an individualised training plan for each recruit based on the extent to which they are a “born” teacher or the extent to which they can be developed into a good teacher with high level mentoring from within schools, not outside them. Schools would be responsible for giving a new recruit the experience and knowledge they need to succeed in the classroom. This way new teachers would learn on the job and form a practical base, not a theoretical one. A new recruit will learn more from a week in a good school than they will learn from a year in a training institution.

But for this to work, like everything, there needs to be steel in the backbone of the system. That means that only known good schools should be funded to recruit and train teachers. Then again, if a school is not a known good school it should be closed down immediately anyway and replaced with a good school. And it should be written into principals’ employment contracts with their employing Boards that they will be sacked if they recruit and train badly.

Too simple you might say. Aren’t the best solutions to challenging situations the most simple ones?


Anonymous said...

Mr Peachey

Have I got this right?

Recognise good schools.
Close bad schools (based on flawed National Standards system??)
Let Principals train their own teacher trainees.
If it does not work out, sack the Principal.

Do you see any contradictons in any of this? It does not seem very well thought through. Right up there with National Standards

Anonymous said...

I am a retired primary teacher and I say let's make this an option.In the early days of New Zealand education would be teachers spent a year on the job in schools before going to Teachers' College.

What we surely need are men and women with a passion for teaching. Whether or not they had this would surely become evident during their school training period.

On the other side of the coin we need to make conditions attractive for teachers - so smarten up school discipline standards and control the paperwork.