If Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge wants to get to the bottom of the recruitment and retention issues the teaching profession faces, he need look no further than the litany of submissions provided over the past three decades, writes IEU Professional Officer Pat Devery.
The IEUA NSW/ACT Branch has recently contributed to yet another review of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) conducted by the Federal Government.
As IEUA Federal Secretary Chris Watt wrote at the time the review was established, “The history of reviews into school education in Australia is not one of credit. There have been many, many reviews in the last three decades, volumes of recommendations, repeated reviews of similar subject matter, and a track-record indicating little evidence of implementation of major and significant recommendations.”
In addressing how to go about attracting high-performing and highly motivated school leavers to enter teacher education and choose teaching as a career, the IEUA asserted that any programs and/or policies aimed at attracting and retaining a high-quality teaching workforce must also address public perceptions of teaching as a career and, indeed, the increasingly challenging nature of the job itself.
Lack of career pathways
The union’s submission pointed to several factors driving a negative perception of the teaching profession: lack of career pathways; excessive workloads; relatively low remuneration; and government and media rhetoric implying those currently working in teaching are deficient in skills and knowledge. Is it any wonder our best and brightest are discouraged from pursuing a career in teaching?
The review posed the question, what more can ITE providers and employers do to ensure students get the practical experience they need before they start their teaching careers?
The union has consistently maintained that quality initial teacher education cannot be supported in schools where staff are considerably time poor and struggling with inadequate resources. Addressing the professional and industrial areas of concern teachers face is central to ensuring the delivery of a quality ITE practicum component.
Quality pracs needed
Of primary concern is the need to provide supervising teachers and mentors with the time release and resources to support preservice teachers adequately. The current industrial arrangement which pays supervising teachers about $30/day barely scrapes the surface.
Any experienced teacher will also concede that, while graduate teachers are expected to arrive at their first teaching job ‘classroom ready’, there is always a large element of honing one’s skills on the job. This is true of all professions – doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists – regardless of their initial tertiary training.
Provide a mentor
Affording beginning teachers the opportunity to work with an experienced mentor provides a much more effective induction into a teaching career and is likely to produce long-term benefits.
Unfortunately, as teaching has become more and more challenging, with constant reforms and accountabilities and the resultant expansion of duties and administrative tasks expected of teachers, this informal support for beginning teachers from experienced mentors has proved difficult to sustain.
Establishing an industrial framework to ensure appropriate mentoring for all pre-service and beginning teachers is the next necessary step.
The Federal Government’s Teach for Australia model wraps its Associates (interns) in a comprehensive support structure that affords beginning teachers a workload of 0.8 FTE (full-time equivalent) for two years, while providing four hours per week release for mentors in the first year and two hours per week in the second.
If the Minister is genuine in his desire to see ITE students and beginning teachers successfully inducted into the profession, he must consider allocating resources to allow this, beginning with providing mentors with substantial release time to guide pre-service teachers through their practicums.
Further, once a student has successfully negotiated their ITE and landed a paid teaching job, they should then be allocated a maximum of 0.8FTE until they achieve their accreditation at Proficient teacher status.
As with the Teach for Australia model, not-yet Proficient teachers should be allocated a mentor for up to four hours per week in their initial year and two hours per week in their second year to ensure a positive and productive induction process that will set the beginning teacher up for a long and successful career.
Embedding this structural support into industrial instruments will go a long way towards ensuring beginning teachers start off on the right foot in an increasingly challenging professional environment.
There is no quick fix for the issues in ITE. It requires a holistic response to find sustainable solutions. Addressing initial teacher education is only part of the answer. Meaningful investment in incentives for graduates to move to rural and regional areas and/or development of rural and regional training facilities is urgently required.
The Minister must also consider how we might rehabilitate the public image of teaching and reposition this noble profession, once again, as a career of choice for our best and brightest students.