“We need the courage to do things differently!”
This was the plea from an audience member of Wednesday night’s ChalkTalks panel discussion on Reimagining Teacher Education, held at University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.
The panel of five batted around potential tweaks that could be made to the teacher education system. Getting the balance right between theory and practicum; attracting and retaining a diverse workforce; working in partnership with schools – many different aspects came up for discussion.
However, it was hard to let imaginations run riot against a backdrop of such a disgruntled education sector.
Panellist Craig Holt, president of Auckland Primary Principals’ Association, indicated that innovative thinking was being stifled by the political handbrakes on the sector.
“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.”
Fellow panellist and dean of the hosting faculty, Associate Professor Mark Barrow, said this naturally had implications for teacher education providers.
“Unless young people and people who want to get into teaching can see that society values it, then people are going to step away. We need the signals that things like salary increases give to society, so that we can attract the best and the brightest to teacher education.”
Attracting a more diverse teacher workforce is often seen as one of the key challenges for teacher education providers.
Panellist Pauline Barnes, General Manager of Professional Services at Teaching Council said the Council was constantly discovering new ways of attracting new people into teacher education. She gave the example of an iwi they were working with, helping to connect their aspiring teacher cohort with an ITE provider to serve their rohe.
Panellist Michelle Johansson from Teach First NZ believes it is important we offer people different pathways into the profession, especially given the changing demographics of New Zealand.
“I think we get caught up in playing the short game, but in a number of years half our population is going to look very different, and we’re still dealing with a colonial system.”
Barrow expressed some frustration at the Government’s willingness to fund employment-based programmes like Teach First but not invest more into university-based provider programmes.
However, the panel agreed that regardless of the different pathways into teaching, the difficulty wasn’t so much in recruiting people into programmes, but retaining them.
“Fluent [Te Reo] Māori speakers for example, the world is their oyster,” says Barrow. “When they finish with us, they have to have a very attractive offer to keep them in teaching because there will be lots of people in Government and local councils who will want them desperately – and those people are going to provide better conditions and better pay.”
Barrow pointed out that if you were sitting on the base scale as a teacher, you wouldn’t have had a pay increase for ten years. “How is that acceptable in any society?” he questioned.
Panellist AUT Masters Teaching & Learning student Liam Cunningham said he and his colleagues were only too aware of how disillusioned many in the sector were. While he described his cohort as a talented bunch, he felt more people would consider teaching if the profession was in better shape.
Pauline Barnes says the Council’s purpose in law is to lift the status of the teaching profession, and that is what has driven the new Requirements for ITE Programme Providers, effective from 1 July 2019.
While this appears to be a good step in the right direction, the conversation kept returning to other ways to raise the status of the profession, namely, better pay and conditions for teachers.
“Somebody out there needs to be brave and make that decision that they’re going to do what’s best for kids and society in the long term rather than what’s fiscally viable now and politically popular,” says Holt.
“I think the sector is getting to the point where it’s either going to blossom or implode.”