Submission to the ‘Great Teaching, Inspired Learning - Discussion paper’
Banora Point High School
12 August 2012.
Every person has different circumstances and contexts via which they can contribute to this process. The reason for this information is to make clear my experience in order to indicate how they relate to the aspects of the report on which I will be commenting.
I am a 49 year old male classroom teacher. I have been teaching for 10 years in the public system after leaving the New South Wales Police Force. I have only had two substantive teaching placements; Leumeah High School in Campbelltown (one and a half years) and Banora Point High School in the Tweed Heads area. I also was employed, for over a term, as a casual Metal Work teacher at Kadina High School near Lismore.
I left the Police Force, at 39 years old and after 13 years of service, for various reasons associated with disappointment with the Force and lack of interest in furthering my career. I therefore wondered what I could do as a career change. I liked ancient history and decided to study at university; I did not quite know what to do with the subsequent degree and rather arbitrarily opted for high school teaching and chose a combined BA DipEd degree. However, the diploma was integrated with the BA so that at least one unit of education was taken with the other (ancient history) units each semester.
I should say at this point that, although teaching was a means to an end (prolonged employment in a new career to continue supporting my family), during the degree I became to identify strongly with teaching and caring for young people. I emerged from the four years at university with a passion for teaching (even though at that stage I did not know what that meant), and ready to go to great lengths for the young people that would be in my care.
I was targeted as a graduate and in 2003 placed at Leumeah High School (one of my preference schools). However, as a family we decided to move to the far north coast and I needed to resign (2004) in order to make the move as I would have had little to no possibility of qualifying for a transfer. I then taught casual for the rest of the year and attended a re-entry interview for the
Department. I was offered the permanent position at Banora Point High School the day before school commenced in the next year (2005).
Banora Point High School was only in its second year when I began working there and the staff was half the present number with only two year groups in attendance. This is relevant in that, as a junior teacher, I had the opportunity to gain experience in some areas that are probably not available when employed in a larger, settled school; such as having previously performed Head Teacher duties for about 2 years outside of my faculty area.
• Given the statistics presented in this paper, the number of education places offered in universities needs to be monitored, with maximum numbers imposed if there is a possible oversupply of teachers. However, this cannot be a blanket imposition on the number of teaching degrees. The numbers of places permitted must reflect the need, or oversupply, of teachers in each subject or faculty.
• Limiting the number of practicum placements is not appropriate as this is not an effective way of ensuring the number of graduates reflects the needs in education at a particular time. Unless this directly affects the number of university teaching places offered. There may still be a surplus of university students in some teaching areas and this means that university resources may be wasted. Primarily however, this is not equitable for the students who are accepted into teaching degrees; meaning that if a student is accepted into a teaching degree they should be provided the opportunity to undertake the required practicum in order to complete their degree.
• Secondary teaching degrees should be integrated degrees, similar to those of primary teaching degrees. That is the student enters into the high school degree with the express purpose of emerging with a teaching degree rather than a university student complete a separate degree, such as Mathematics, Science or Arts and then tack on a Diploma of Education at the end. The reasons for this assertion are; firstly, the student must make a conscious decision that teaching is what they want to do prior to applying for the degree. Secondly, the student is provided with the philosophy, psychology and sociology of teaching from the start in order to make deeper links between the subject units and teaching units over a greater period of time. Thirdly, the practicums can be integrated over a longer period and provide for a more appropriate, satisfying practicum experience allowing the intensity and expectations of each practicum to reflect the level of experience associated with the course. Lastly, students will have longer to reflect on their choice of profession and whether they are suited to the job prior to making a commitment which may make demands the new teacher is not suited to providing. I have found in my experience with student teachers (2 a year for the last 7 years) that the greatest deficiency in their education is lack of practicum experience and a rushed, do-or-die attitude to developing and demonstrating their suitability as future teachers. Further, it may develop the extra resilience and resourcefulness required to assist first year teachers to approach their trials and tribulations and be more specific with their expressions of need and requests for assistance.
• Another advantage of an integrated secondary degree is that university students can be
encouraged to diversify in their subject experience. For instance, a Science student may have the opportunity to study music and be eligible to provide expertise to a school where, in my experience, there is only one willing music teacher in each school. This diversity is
advantageous for schools and also promotes the healthy aspect of education where school students have modelling of the diverse learner.
• University staff that teach subject specific and classroom content to university students should have recent classroom experience. They could be employed on a rotational basis so that, say, every two years the practical subject lecturers are replaced. This would also provide for valuable professional development for established classroom teachers.
ENTRY INTO THE PROFESSION
• First year teachers do need a teacher mentor. The mentor needs to be someone who can allow the new teacher to express their frustrations and concerns in a raw, emotional manner as dealing with people (especially young people) is capable of raising frustrations and ire beyond many other occupations. Therefore having a trusted person on whom to safely vent and then
bring them back to focus is extremely important. It is also important to have a trusted person who can bring into perspective the way school welfare/disciplinary system operates. This person also needs to be able to discuss whole school policies and realities with the new teacher as well as offering strategies and quality teaching practices.
• For this reason the mentor must be chosen in a similar manner as a Year Advisor, that being for the benefit of the person they are mentoring and ensuring the mentor has the demeanour and ability required.
• The mentor must also be trained regularly to ensure support and recognition of their duty.
• Having a senior teacher as mentor for new teacher is not appropriate as that person is often too busy to provide the time and emotional support required. However, a senior member should supervise the new teacher program so that a common system amongst mentors is developed and that the mentors have someone senior to approach with any queries.
• Whether or not a teacher is accredited may not be the best deciding factor as to whether or not a mentor should be chosen. Many teachers who are appropriate as mentors may not see the necessity of applying for accreditation. Perhaps those who are regular mentors could be encouraged to become accredited and that their training contribute to that accreditation. Further, if accreditation becomes department policy for leading teachers then so be it, however enforcing accreditation on those who are doing exemplary work may cause those future leaders to forgo the opportunity of applying for those positions.
• The only appropriate way of trying to ensure that demographics of schools are diverse is by offering incentives and providing benefits for each of the specified demographic type needed to achieve the required demographics. Any coercion or policies of enforcement would be
inequitable and counterproductive.
• The suggestions for new permanent teachers also relate to the many casual teachers that emerge every year. These teachers need to be inducted just as much as permanent teachers. Further, an effective system needs to be established that enables new casual teachers in their
requirement for accreditation as this can be a problematic and lonely process for them.
DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
• The above suggestion regarding mentoring new teachers could help facilitate the initial
development of collegial interaction amongst teachers. The appropriate attitude and induction can ensure the development of collegiality in and between schools.
• It may be appropriate to require a specific number of hours from each teacher related to
endorsed PL. This could be reasonably included in a teacher’s performance requirements. The proviso would be that the PL is paid for by the department and during school hours.
• A way of promoting shared quality teaching and collegiality is to develop PL courses that require collaboration amongst faculties and teachers. Compulsory PL could require the participants to jointly produce a school, class, faculty, or other outcome where more than one school/cross school member is to be involved.
• Research shows that specific school and faculty based PL and training has the greatest benefit for teachers. Therefore, the majority of PL courses should involve school based and school community based contexts. Specific PL also includes such things as HSC marking
opportunities, experience lecturing and assisting in universities, viewing other teachers’ classes and other such activities.
• For those teachers not reaching appropriate standards in the classroom, the need for
intervention needs to be assessed early and the teacher approached with minimal intervention early on. In the situations I have witnessed, the teacher needing intervention has not been
approached for quite some time (years) after the necessity for assistance is obvious. This means that the teacher and the one initiating and supervising the assistance need to establish many, ingrained aspects that need to be addressed. Whereas, if the teacher had been
approached in a low key manner earlier, less intervention and fewer aspects requiring modification would have been needed.
• If a teacher is operating in such a way that it seriously affects staff and students and intervention has been offered and is either not accepted or not successful, the process of
removing that teacher should begin quickly and the principal should receive clear indications as to the evidence required to prove the teacher is not suitable. Each further person of authority, above the principal, should expedite their role so that the teacher in question can arrive at the final level at which the matter can be settled. In some situations I have witnessed interventions be prolonged which has caused unacceptable tension and uncertainty that has affected the whole school environment.
• Principals need to remain to be selected from teachers that have progressed through school experience. There is the danger that, due to principals’ increasingly management/financial role that it may be considered managers from outside of education would be appropriate. The unique situations and experiences involved in teaching, and the necessity of working with young people who have ever increasing social problems that complicate the concept of education, means that principals require a teaching base in order to properly administer to schools.
• I think it also needs to be clearly stated and understood that the deputy’s role has become more akin to the former principal’s role; in that a lot disciplinary action and interventions and parent communication now comes under the auspice of the deputy. For this reason, the deputy
requires more authority to deal directly with these situations and should be provided with PL to address these informal duties.
RECOGNISE AND SHARE OUSTANDING PRACTICE
• It is reasonable to assert that only teachers who have undergone accreditation at higher levels should be eligible for promotion. The accreditation indicates that the teacher has a career path in mind, is willing to work towards it and is capable of achieving certain levels of
accomplishment in their practice. However, further requirement should be established, one of which should be verification that the prospective applicant has the personal attributes that are integral to good leaders. These could include interpersonal attributes, ability to delegate compassionately and efficiently, the ability to take difficult action in regards to fellow staff, to have the students as their priority and to motivate their staff.
• The indicators of excellent teachers should not be restricted to how they demonstrate the ability to complete paperwork and the academic results that the students they teach achieve. Teaching is a complicated profession that requires teachers to achieve much more than keep programs up to date and present work in class. Students are subject to many social issues that means a teacher also has a responsibility to encourage a student to simply engage with school, encourage resilience in students, provide for self-assurance and the ability to take academic risks even at an initial level. Therefore, the interactions between teacher and students should be taken into account. This could be indicated by comment from Head Teachers and selected other supervisors such as Deputy, Principal, parents, Counsellors and others.
• Incentives should be provided for teachers to upgrade their qualifications and apply for accreditation at higher levels. I have applied for accreditation as accomplished teacher, and paid the $500, only to not address it for one and a half years because the other dut ies I am
involved in, Year Advisor, whole school programs and duties and new subject, mean I have not taken the time to collect the required evidence. Part of the reason for this is the benefits of completing the accreditation do not match the responsibility and effort required for everyday duties.
I will end my submission here. These are really cursory comments and only scratch the surface of the issues involved. In the end real substantial rewards are required in order that the best teachers are recognised and are willing to make themselves available to assist in improving the outcomes of our students. A lot of teachers do every day is accomplished because of the responsibility, compassion, integrity and humanity they possess. The department is limited in asking ‘what do you want besides money in order to give more’, because in quite a few cases there is no more to give. Reduced classes may not be the answer to better quality teaching, however, time is of a premium and teaching less classes and having more time for recovering from dealing with young people might be part of the answer.