Sunday, August 29, 2010

Allan Peachey: Improving Teacher Training

I write this week’s commentary in partial defence of my last article in which I argued that teacher recruitment and training should become the responsibility of schools. Schools should be able to recruit their new teachers direct from university graduates without a course of teacher training having to intervene first.

Over the years I have talked to young graduates about the possibility of their becoming teachers. One compelling point was often made to me and it still weighs heavily on my mind. I have met graduates who have said to me, “Look, I have done three, four or five years at university, I have a good degree, I don’t want to be a student any more, I am sick of being treated like a student. I want to get into the world, grow up and start paying off my student loan. If I go teacher training that is another year as a student, being treated as a student, another year and a few more thousand dollars on my student loan. There are plenty of other jobs I can do with the degree that I have. Why would I bother with teaching?”

Why indeed? At a time when a graduate is thinking about teacher training his or her mates or friends will actually be starting work and being paid in law, accounting, engineering, architectural firms etc. And they will be doing their professional training as part of their work as part of a profession. Law graduates undertaking their “professionals” in their first year of employment in a law firm is the perfect example. They absorb what it means to be part of a profession while actually working in that profession, not being lectured about it from outside the profession.

And that would be a comment that I would make about too many of the teacher trainees that I came across in my years as a principal. Some were of course outstanding and I was very quick to talk to such people about future employment opportunities that might become available. Too many just had no idea, were still in a student mentality mind set in the way they thought, dressed etc. They were going to be high maintenance for the first year or so that they were employed in schools. How much better it would have been for schools to be inculcating the standards and values required of a teacher from day one. I believe you look at a person differently when you are looking at them as a potential teaching employee than if you are looking at them as a potential student with one eye on the objective of putting “bums on seats”.

Another point that potential teachers have made to me is a worry that they might invest another year of time and money in training to be a teacher only to find no suitable job available to them, in the type of school in which they wanted to work. When you are dealing with focussed people wanting to get on with their lives this can be a major disincentive. School-based training as part of employment provides greater future certainty.

There is another related issue that I want to address. That is the criticism that young teachers go from school to university to school with little or no experience of life. Under the current system of recruiting and training teachers we take youngsters, toss them into a classroom, close the door and expect them to perform like 20 year veterans. I don’t know of any other profession that quite does that to its new entrants. I have seen young men and women grow up overnight. They confront the “worldly” side of life far more quickly, far more consistently and far more sharply than most other people do. And there is no escape for a teacher. It’s not a case of maybe observing a difficult client meeting and then retreating to a work space. For a teacher it is relentless. Teachers very quickly grow up to the reality of human behaviour and unwillingness to take responsibility, to parental blame, to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, theft, family dysfunction and so on. Never under-estimate a teacher’s understanding of how society functions or dysfunctions. Teachers may not necessarily understand the business world, but they very quickly learn about life. Teachers confront the human condition and all its frailties most hours in their working lives. Teaching is a great job but it is also a very “worldly” one.

I have seen teacher training in institutions justified on the grounds that it must provide a student with knowledge, the ability to research and analyse things, and the ability to think critically. I thought that’s what you got from successfully completing a university degree in the types of subjects that teachers need degrees in - mathematics, science, the humanities. If they are not getting that then let’s look at the universities, not use that as a reason for justifying the huge expense that teacher training institutions incur.

Schools should be able to recruit into teaching direct from university people who have subject knowledge, can research and analyse information, and who can think critically (and creatively). All the school then needs to do is impart the craft of teaching.

And how is that best done? Not in a lecture hall but in a classroom, hour after hour, day after day with experienced practitioners. That is, teachers.


Anonymous said...

I would go a step further and encourage that all those who have an idea that they want to be a teacher be assigned to a school and paired with a great teacher role model and be expected (and paid)to teach, as a pair with the experienced, as well as some individual teaching with experienced teacher observing and giving feedback, while training. Not the present method of class visits for 3-4 weeks, which in many cases become a joke. Teacher training as it has been taken over by the Universities from the Training Colleges, now focus on Academia rather than the craft of teaching: Organisation of classrooms, control and discipline of students, motivation and enjoyment for both student and teacher, Balanced programs: New Learning/exploration, Practice, maintenance, extension and enrichment. Approaches: Whole class, small group, individualised, selected student instructions.
Until the craft of teaching is acknowledged and implemented we are not going to have great teachers.

Sarah said...

Ever heard of pedagogy? Reflective practice? Assessment for learning?

Knowing a subject and/or having a degree isn't sufficient preparation to be unleashed on a bunch of kids so you can learn on the job. Surely students deserve better than that?

PRT programmes already exist to pair trained beginning teachers with more experienced colleagues once they enter the workforce.

Why offer less training and support to new teachers? Why not invest more in quality training and induction programmes?

After all, it's an investment...

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I would go even further than anonymous. I would suggest that not only the craft of teaching be included with the approaches outlined above, but the application and use of evidence within teaching should be integral to a teacher's learning. Blocks of at least seven weeks in a supervised structured environment with expert teacher mentors should be included to guide the development of teaching methods and giving feedback to the students. Ah but wait, isn't that what we have now in the graduate diploma's offered by many of the Universities, and aren't the vast majority of these graduates highly competent beginning teachers?

Anonymous said...

An alternate answer is that if the status of teachers was raised to be equivalent of that of a doctor, dentist or similar professional then graduates may not shy away from the postgraduate professional training of becoming a teacher.