The panel agreed both theory and practice were important, but how to get the right mix was up for discussion.
Panellist Dr Mark Barrow, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland, said ITE programmes were short on time to deliver everything their students needed to know.
“What we’ve got is a year to get them thinking like educators. And you can’t do that just by spending time in the classroom – or just spending time at university. You actually have to have some of the social theory, some of the social science thinking that’s gone on that underpins education and take that into a classroom and test it.”
“The balance is very hard to get right and there is actually very little empirical evidence to say what that balance should be. We’ve got good ideas about what good practicum looks like, and what good university education looks like. What the mix between those two is something every provider tries to get right,” he says.
Panellist Pauline Barnes, General Manager of Professional Services and Teaching Council, pointed to a literature review and feedback from the profession which found creating the conditions for a quality practical experience component was extremely important.
The literature review found that “fewer longer practica appear to be more useful than a series of short practica. Practica need to be long enough for genuine relationships to be developed and maintained.”
As Teaching Council’s Lesley Hoskin indicated recently, the length of time for practical experience varies across programmes and there isn’t definitive evidence that says how much is enough. However, as students will be working across diverse settings and with diverse learners, learning how to practise, make judgements and relate to parents it makes sense to make sure there is enough time given to do that.
As such, Teaching Council’s new requirements for ITE programme providers, due to “go live” in July, outline their expectations for providers to design that evidence into their programmes.
Barnes emphasises that it is not the length of practicum that is important, but the quality of that practicum experience, as that allows meaningful relationships to be developed.
She says practicum should be fully integrated into the programme.
“It should feel seamless for the student.”
Panellist Liam Cunningham, an AUT Masters Teaching & Learning student, agreed that this was his experience so far, with theory and practicum very much intertwined in his course.
He greatly valued the opportunity to build relationships with students and the non-hierarchical approach from the teachers involved in his professional learning and mentoring.
Panellist Dr Michelle Johansson, Programme Director at Teach First NZ says there should be more flexibility built into the system to allow for the different learning needs and styles of teacher students.
“I think different people develop at different times. We have te reo Māori teachers ready to teach on day one. We have PhDs in physics who have all the theory but are not ready to stand up and teach.”
Panellist Craig Holt, president of Auckland Primary Principals’ Association agreed we shouldn’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach.
“If you can’t respond to the person in front of you you’re probably not going to get the balance right. There needs to be flexibility. Just like we do for kids.”
This has been one of the challenges for Teaching Council: trying to inject both structure and flexibility into the requirements for ITE providers.
“We’ve tried really hard to say what does teacher education look like in terms of programme design? What do we expect beginning teachers to be able to do? How do we make it flexible enough so that it’s not out of date five minutes after you publish it?”
The panel were all strong advocates for enhancing the partnerships between ITE providers and schools. It appeared those partnerships were currently strong, but likely to wane without Government investment.
“We worry we’re placing too many demands on the schools we’re working with,” says Mark Barrow. “The government should be funding schools to be equal partners in this endeavour.”
Craig Holt echoed the need for more support.
“The tutor teacher allowance hasn’t been changed since something like 1982. Do they get something like $47 a week? People do it because they want to support the profession, but that goodwill is becoming exhausted.”