More and more Kiwi children are presenting with complex learning and behavioural needs. Are we preparing our future teachers adequately? Or should we turn the challenge on its head and look at what it is we’re not doing or teaching that’s bringing about increasingly complex needs?
It was perhaps the most confronting topic up for debate at the ChalkTalks panel discussion on Reimagining Teacher Education.
Several hands from the audience rose to address different aspects of this. One audience member was concerned about maintaining the quality and currency of the staff delivering the ITE programmes. She was worried that the length of time that had lapsed since they were last in the classroom meant they were possibly out of touch with the needs of today’s students.
Panellist Dr Mark Barrow, dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland said this was certainly a key concern for providers. He said ongoing professional learning for staff was of great importance and it was imperative they were kept up to date with current classroom practice.
Another audience member reflected that years ago a beginning teacher would likely be allocated an “easy” class as they eased into the profession, but given the number of children with high needs thesedays, it did not appear possible, and it wasn’t unheard of for a new teacher to have five or six children with high needs.
Panellist Liam Cunningham, AUT Masters Teaching & Learning student, says while teacher students were encouraged to have an awareness of the needs involved and time has been spent on his programme looking at specific learning needs, there also has to be an understanding of when to seek help from others with the professional and relevant expertise.
Panellist Craig Holt, Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president, said we had to be careful that in seeking the help of other professionals that the delivery model did not get too far away from the kids. He cited an example from his school where an educational psychologist spent a lot of time working with teachers and the family and very little with the child at the heart of the matter.
The panel agreed there needed to be more inter-connected agencies working together in schools to support teachers and help children.
However, another audience member turned the question of complex learning and behavioural needs upside down. Piki Diamond, AUT PhD candidate asked whether we shouldn’t be looking at how and what we’re teaching instead of bringing in ‘fix-it’ solutions which may only serve to make the child feel bad about themselves.
“Is that not saying we need to look at how we are teaching? Or look at a different way in which we’re delivering? Isn’t that telling us something as a community we’re not getting these children what they need. It could be as basic as, they’re not getting loved.
“Behavioural issues are there because they’re in defence mode. They’re missing something. So what is it they’re missing? We need the courage to do things differently.”
Mark Barrow said that teacher provider institutions like the University of Auckland put a lot of research effort into such questions. However, he believed too much emphasis was placed on imported educational models instead of drawing on the issues and opportunities that may be unique to Aotearoa.
And then there is the challenge of applying new ways of doing things to the classroom.
Craig Holt, while supportive of such innovation, believes the sector is hamstrung from taking risks until there is cross-party consensus on a direction forward.
“Until we have some political willingness to have that long term view every three years the political winds blow across what we’re doing and change quite dramatically what we are and aren’t allowed to do in schools.”