This week’s teachers’ strike has probably not been the best advertisement for the teaching profession. Could you blame a Year 12 or 13 student for bypassing teaching as a potential career option given the political noise surrounding pay and working conditions? However, on the flip side, given there is a shortage of teachers at the moment, the chances of getting a job are high.

Of course, that’s not why most people choose to become a teacher. Nor is the pay, as teacher education student Renée Dale explains.

“For me and a lot of my peers at Auckland Uni pay was obviously not the attraction to teaching. Of course it was the children. I love the idea of watching children develop and having a part in that development,” says Dale, who is currently studying to be a primary teacher at the University of Auckland.

“Of course it would be much better to have better pay and working conditions for the amount of time energy and hard work teachers put into their students but I don’t think it’s a reason to not go into the profession. Someone has to teach the next generation; someone has to care for the kids.”

But who should that ‘someone’ be? This is a question initial teacher education (ITE) experts have been grappling with for some time.

In search of a more diverse teacher workforce

Associate Professor Fiona Ell, Associate Dean and Head of Initial Teacher Education at University of Auckland sees recruiting and retaining the right people to teaching as one of the main challenges facing teacher education. For Ell, the ‘right people’ should be “linguistically and culturally diverse, committed, open-minded, knowledgeable and skilled”.

Ell believes we need to support people to consider teaching, support them to meet the standards, and for those who do, support them to apply for teaching.

“We need to stop assuming that ‘diverse’ students can’t meet high entry standards,” she says. “Deficit thinking about the trade-off between diversifying the teaching workforce and maintaining standards is pervasive.”

“Internationally, schemes which begin with high school students in Year 10 or 11 have shown promise – working with students to make sure they take the right credits and so on, and providing work experiences that motivate them to continue.

“We also need to look at how our institutions respond to students once we accept them and pay attention to retention and completion rates for different groups – our entry cohorts may be diverse, but who finishes the qualification successfully?”

Chief executive of Teach First NZ Jay Allnutt says that we’re not seeing enough diversity in the current teacher workforce.

“The stats about the ethnicity and age diversity of the current teaching workforce suggest that we don’t have a good diversity in the profession.”

He believes teacher education has an important role to play in shaping this diversity.

“We need to make sure the teaching profession and teacher education are attractive and accessible to a diverse range of people, which means that the way we talk about the profession, the way we select people, what and how we teach them, and how we support them during the early part of their career are vital.”

Stuart Armistead, Principal of Knighton Normal School in Hamilton says we’re not seeing enough diversity on teacher education programmes.

“The intake is not diverse and does not reflect what New Zealand classrooms look like. We need competent Māori teachers, including those who can teach in te reo Māori. We also need Muslim teachers and male teachers and teachers with tattoos and teachers who stretch us.”

Different pathways into teacher education

Jay Allnutt thinks providing alternative pathways into teaching will help achieve this diversity.

“There should be a range of different pathways into the profession, and also equitable entry criteria for various pathways, which doesn’t privilege just one type of person and limit access for others.”

Allnutt thinks this will help with teacher shortages in high demand subjects such as maths, physics and te reo Māori.

Stuart Armistead agrees we should be thinking more broadly about what good teacher education looks like and where it occurs. He does not think the majority of universities’ teacher education models are the best way to train teachers.

“Over 90% of training is in the hands of the universities,” he says. “We need to take the time to form a philosophy that is indigenous – not a mixture of international ideas.  The profession wants more practice and more breadth and depth in curriculum studies that help form the art of teaching.”

However Armistead doesn’t think programmes like Teach First are the answer either.

“We are leaving massive gaps in ITE space so quick- fix programmes like Teach First can squeeze themselves in as the saviours. Now is the time to be brave and innovative in considering future-focused Initial Teacher Education.”

The right balance of theory and practice

Fiona Ell says some consideration needs to be taken when “alternate pathways” are introduced.

It is important we think of teacher education as an intellectual endeavour, says Ell.

“There is science to education, not all teaching is intuitive, principled understandings are more long-lasting and useful than context-based experiences,” she says, “but there is a trend towards seeing teacher preparation as a practical, technical matter.”

However, Stuart Armistead offers a different view.

“They can get all the theory in the world but they need an equal amount of practice and they need to hear from lecturers who know the curriculum, both the gazetted curriculum and the hidden curriculum well. University colleges are full of research lecturers and few recent practitioners,” he says.

Jay Allnutt says theory and practice go hand in hand.

“We need to ensure that we are educating teachers  – not just ‘training’ them,” he says. “It’s not just about ensuring they have classroom and behaviour management ability, or sufficient subject knowledge. They need the conceptual framework to understand how their students are learning, and how that fits into a bigger picture of the purpose of their learning, and how this might be affected over time.”

“This conceptual learning needs to be tied to meaningful experience and application in schools as well, suggesting the need for effective and high quality and supported practicum experience.”

Allnutt says it’s important we ensure schools have the capability and capacity to support early career teachers to apply their learning and continue to develop, in their own unique contexts.

“This is an even more pressing issue as more schools adopt new styles of learning, with project-based curricular and modern learning environments. Many new teachers struggle in these environments because it is such a departure from their own experience of learning.”

Is teacher education adequately preparing our teachers?

With so much to learn, it can be challenging to cram everything a teacher needs to know into an ITE course.

“If we write a ‘shopping list’ of what we’d like teachers to know and be able to do before they start we end up with more than can be fitted into a reasonable timeframe – in some jurisdictions they have gone to five years preparation to fix this, but the salary doesn’t really merit five years preparation here,” says Fiona Ell.

Teaching is sophisticated work, says Ell, and the pendulum swings historically between various views of what is important.

“Teachers need to know a lot about content, children, psychology, pedagogy – and also about things that seem more ephemeral or unnecessary to lay people sometimes, like the politics of teaching and privilege, the Treaty of Waitangi, the way schools function in society and so on. If we want to tackle the issues of racism and realise the potential of diversity, teachers need some understanding of these things.

“So we have a crowded curriculum of worthwhile ideas and skills that are chosen to align with the graduating standards set by the Teaching Council. So we are not making up what we do, nor do we have free choice – the things we do are probably as ‘right’ as any set of things you might choose from the wide range of things that could be included.”

There is an argument for more emphasis to be placed in teacher education on understanding and responding to the increasingly complex behavioural and learning needs of students.

Ell says this should definitely form a part of teacher education, as well as ensuring that there is specialist support for these students too.

Beginning teachers need to understand the basic principles and know where to seek support, and then be mentored to deal with increasing complexity in practice, she says.

“Classroom teachers always have to be part of solutions for students in schools, in a collaborative team with specialists, the child and their family, so we need to build good practice in ITE and provide support for teachers in schools.”

Jay Allnutt agrees.

“Of course we can’t expect teachers to provide all the support that is necessary, but having an understanding will enable them to engage with the relevant specialists well, and promote inclusiveness as much as possible.”

Ell views this as a challenge for teacher education programmes: how to design programmes that prepare people to teach inclusively and cater for a wide range of learning and behavioural needs.

Viewing teacher education as part of education

Fiona Ell would like to see ITE provision regarded as integral to the profession in all sectors, rather than as something ‘separate’ from the profession. After all, teacher education providers have the same aims as schools and centres: making a difference for learners.

“Putting ITE in conflict with the rest of the profession, by saying we do the wrong things, or what we do is useless, or we are to blame for teacher quality, doesn’t help build partnerships and recognise our shared responsibility for new teachers.”

“It would help if schools were rewarded for their support of ITE and were given resources (time, money) to engage with ITE – at the moment they are asked to do too much on goodwill alone.”

Jay Allnutt agrees the key to excellent initial teacher education is going to be the partnerships between providers and schools, with the early career teacher at the centre surrounded by support and learning from both organisations.

“So whether a pathway is more employment-based or campus-based, we know that all new teachers will have the conceptual understanding they need, and the support to apply this in a school environment both before and after the end of their ITE programme.

“In that respect, the role of schools should change in relation to ITE, which will have benefits for ongoing learning and retention of the new teachers that the ITE providers bring into the profession.”

Stuart Armistead would also like to see true partnership with the profession. He reiterates his desire to see an “indigenous Kiwi model of initial teacher education” emerge.

The challenges facing ITE are shared with other parts of the sector and therefore should be met together, in partnership. Similarly, the challenges facing schools are shared with ITE providers. Teaching is at a difficult juncture right now, which naturally has an impact on ITE.

But if we return to our teacher education student, Renée Dale, it is clear that people with a passion for teaching, who are instinctively drawn to the profession, will still show up ready to learn and make a difference. And it is the goal of ITE providers to give aspiring teachers like her the best preparation for the classroom possible.

Find out more about Education Central’s ChalkTalks on Reimagining Teacher Education here.

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