Classroom ready graduates

Teacher preservice education found lacking

In February 2014,Education Minister Christopher Pyne appointed the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group to examine and make recommendations on how initial teacher education in Australia could be improved to better prepare new teachers with the practical skills need for the classroom. This is the 102nd inquiry into teacher education in Australia.Cathy Hickey of IEU VicTas asks “have we got it right yet?”

Headed by Professor Greg Craven of the Australian Catholic University, the advisory group considered 175 public submissions and undertook consultations with key stakeholders including the education unions. The advisory group’s report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers makes a number of hard hitting criticisms of current programs and recommends changes to the university course accreditation process, selection of students, including a controversial literacy and numeracy test, a focus on stronger assessment of graduates in respect to ‘classroom readiness’ and stronger partnerships between schools and universities. Induction programs in schools are also found wanting.

IE looks at the findings in the report and the government’s subsequent response, and tests these out with a range of practitioners in the field. Is the verdict correct? What’s your view?

What is wrong with teacher preservice education?

The Report of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group Review Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, outlines what the advisory group identified as key problems:

Selection of entrants to teaching programs: the report states that there is a need to lift public confidence in initial teacher education, “Australians are not confident that all entrants to initial teacher education are the best fit for teaching”. This criticism includes the balance of academic skills and personal characteristics needed to be suitable for teaching. The report states that there are diverse views regarding selection of initial teacher education students and there is strong evidence for the use of more sophisticated processes to select students.

Quality of teacher education programs: Evidence of poor practice in a number of programs, “not all initial teacher education programs are equipping graduates with content knowledge, nor evidence-based teaching strategies and skills they need to respond to different student learning needs; initial teacher education programs include content not informed by evidence; programs are not preparing preservice students with knowledge to use assessment data to inform or improve their practice”.

Classroom readiness: Inadequate application of teaching standards –“ initial education programs are not rigorously or consistently assessing the classroom readiness of their preservice teachers against the graduate level of the professional standards; teacher employers are dissatisfied with the classroom readiness of initial teacher education graduates; stakeholders advocate models of assessment of classroom readiness to establish readiness for the profession; innovative models for assessment of classroom readiness are increasing but not widely implemented; genuine assessment of classroom readiness must capture the complex skills required for teaching”.

Practicum/professional experience: Insufficient integration of teacher education providers with schools and systems, “are not working effectively working together in the development of new teachers. Claims this is particularly evident in the professional experience component of initial teacher education, which is critical for the translation of theory into practice. Supervising teachers should have the training and skills required to effectively supervise and assess professional experience placements”. There are challenges in ensuring sufficient number of professional experience placements of appropriate timing and length are available for all preservice teachers. The quality of professional experience is limited by lack of integration of theory and practice, and by lack of integration of the work of providers and schools.

Induction: Insufficient support for beginning teachers. The report states that not all graduate teachers are adequately supported once they enter the profession. This means beginning teachers do not reach their full potential, and some may choose to leave the profession. There is no nation-wide approach; quality and quantity vary; induction is inadequate for those in temporary employment/casuals.

What has the Federal Government decided to do?

There are five major areas of work and much of this work is to be overseen by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).

A. Selection for entry:

•Universities to publish information on selection criteria

•All students must pass a literacy and numeracy test before graduating

•Identify best practice in sophisticated selection processes

•Identify examples of selection tools which examine the personal attributes of candidates, and

•Develop criteria to assist universities to select the right applicants, making clear the academic qualities expected of teachers.

B. Robust assessment of graduates to ensure classroom readiness

•Develop a framework for the assessment of teacher education students

•Provide a guide to unis and schools in how teacher education students should be supported including collection of evidence of classroom readiness

•Require universities to make sure every new primary teacher graduates with a subject specialisation (priorities Maths, Science, LOTE), and

•Develop a consistent national approach to induction.

C. Practical experience for student teachers

•Prac to occur early in programs

•Identify best practice examples

•Develop essential requirements of effective prac experience

•Develop model partnership agreements and other supporting materials regarding schools and universities and practicum

•Outline and publish clear expectations of teachers supervising practical experience, and

•Commonwealth funding for professional experience must be used to support placements.

D. Stronger quality assurance of teacher education courses

•Adopt model of Provisional and Full accreditation of university courses

•Clear and explicit instruction for providing evidence of impact

•Work with state jurisdictional accreditation panels to improve the rigour of the accreditation of university courses, and

•Ongoing monitoring and revision of the Graduate level of Teaching Standards.

E. National research and workforce planning capabilities

•Establish a national focus on research into teacher education effectiveness and teaching practice, and

•Co-ordinate existing data sources, to support managing workforce needs.

What do the practitioners have to say?

The beginning teacher
Meghan Walton St Columba’s Soldier’s Hill, Victoria

This is my second year of teaching. Growing up, I was inspired by some amazing teachers and I have always loved to learn and help others. I felt that teaching was the right profession for me because I could continue to learn from both staff and students as well as help others learn.

As a beginning teacher, I have found learning “on the job”, particularly dealing effectively with student behaviour, to be the most challenging aspects of teaching. Every day the students are different, and they all have different needs. From the first, I have really enjoyed seeing students succeed and achieve, no matter how small the task. I also feel privileged to build partnerships with staff, parents and students to achieve this success.

My friends from university and I all face different challenges as we teach different children. But we all love the milestones and success, whether it is knowing times tables, writing on the lines, or reading at a higher level than when we first met them. We agree that our students are who we go to work for and help us see the world differently, perhaps even as it should be.

I see ‘classroom readiness’ as being prepared for, and having a sound understanding of the curriculum and how to assess students. It also encompasses how to engage in professional dialogue and partnerships with colleagues and parents, and how to manage a class full of children while building relationships.

I honestly feel there is only one main skill that you need to be classroom ready and that is how to build relationships with your students. Knowledge, however, is more complex, because curriculum (or at least how to navigate your way through it), behaviour management and what to do when you are in there on the very first day and your fantastic plan isn’t working, are all things that are so vital, and beneficial to know.

Looking back on my teacher education course and the experiences, I’m not sure you can ever be fully prepared for being alone with a class full of children, with one who has forgotten their lunch, two who are upset because something happened at home, and a few making poor choices for reason you haven’t worked out yet, while the majority glide along doing the right thing as your program goes out the window because of unexpected timetable changes.

I do, however, feel that my course prepared me for many of the aspects of teaching and placement rounds gave me an insight into the duties of teachers. Before stepping into a classroom of my own, I felt as though I was prepared for building relationships with my students, working with parents, navigating the curriculum and, overall, felt I had enough practical experience to support me when things became difficult. I’m not sure I was truly prepared for being by myself in a classroom without another staff member to clarify with ‘on-the-go’, and how to handle things when they didn’t go to plan.

However, I feel I was not prepared for behavioural, psychological or socio-economic issues relating to children and their families, and how to support them effectively. In terms of assessment I was unprepared for how to effectively run guided reading groups and that impacted on my junior classroom.

My advice to universities about helping graduates be ‘classroom ready’? We need more information about resilience, and behavioural and family issues, as well as how to support children and families through difficult times. I also needed more assessment practices for literacy later in my university training, for example guided reading and running records, Concepts About Print and the diverse range of testing available in schools. Experience in difficult conversations with parents would also have greatly assisted my transition into the classroom.

Professional experience placements throw up a number of challenges for preservice teachers. Classroom students I had on rounds tended to struggle with who was ‘in charge’, and who to ask questions to, particularly during early rounds when I would take two or three lessons throughout the day.

It is hard on placements to have a true experience of children’s behaviour, and the expectations placed on teachers by parents as well as all those invested in the student’s success. I was able to put a lot into practice at placement, and trial various ways of teaching. I especially enjoyed team teaching on one of my placement rounds in open-plan classrooms.

On reflection, I wish I had seen more data collection, and a variety of ways to collect data. I also believe I would have been more prepared for the classroom if I had seen more guided reading groups, and if I had a group of my own to work with on their reading.

The experienced teacher
John Waldock St Virgil’s College, Austin’s Ferry Tasmania

The focus on classroom readiness is pretty strong in the report. Classroom readiness to me means a teacher being able to go into a classroom, manage (in essence, control) the class, communicate clearly to a class, and being able to deliver a well-structured and student focused lesson that forms part of a cohesive suite of learning experiences.

I believe that more in-class experience certainly improves classroom readiness, which means more observation and guidance from practicing teachers and more time in schools. It raises the issue of longer blocks in schools so that preservice teachers can actually experience the day-to-day life of a teacher and see how their supervising teacher/mentor is able to manage the varied expectations on them. The preservice teachers I work with are consistent in saying that their time in school is a big part of how they have readied themselves for entering the profession.

There is also a strong need for as much behaviour management/behavioural psychology coursework as possible. Beginning teachers I know have complained that there was little teaching of behaviour management in their courses and thus they felt very under prepared for facing a class and managing the learning and behaviour of their students.

One of the biggest challenges that does not get factored in is the proper resourcing of practicum. The key problem is that schools are already very busy. Taking on pre-service teachers is often seen as a burden. It takes considerable time to talk to them, observe and assess their progress while giving them useful and meaningful feedback on their performance. The answer is Time, Time and Time. Teachers need time to handle a normal teaching load and also work with a pre service teacher is challenging. You need to be on top of the university’s assessment documents, understand at what Level of progress the pre service teacher is at and what level of support they need. You also need to help them plan their work, observe them and feedback strengths and areas that need improving.

Preservice teachers deserve to have the time and resources spent on them so that they are fully ready when they graduate to enter the profession.

The elephant in the room here is that the Government wants higher standards, but isn’t prepared to put in the resources to train teachers to a higher level of competency. It’s okay to restructure courses, put more prac experience in the early years of the course, but its also resourcing the time in schools that is an issue.

The principal
Catherine Misson, Principal Melbourne Girls Grammar

Just as schools have had to respond to the current period of reform in education, universities are under scrutiny for their part in this space. I believe that current teacher education programs are switching on to equipping graduates with discipline-based knowledge and fundamentals of assessment design and implementation.

However there are challenges for teacher education, such as sharpening the focus on developing graduates who are professional educators with sophisticated knowledge of how students learn, transdisciplinary curriculum design, contemporary student wellbeing practices, and provision of extended practical experiences through internships.

Numeracy and literacy testing of entrants or graduates? I find the idea of literacy and numeracy tests after being accepted into teacher preparation programs curious. I believe this should form part of the entry requirements and be offered in a bridging program if a motivated applicant has not acquired the standards necessary. Teaching is a complex and demanding profession, and as a profession we should not be reticent to state that certain capabilities are necessary for success.

Readiness to enter any profession is a complex issue, and so it is with ‘classroom readiness’. Until a graduate experiences the full responsibility of class loads, student wellbeing issues, parent communication and complaints management, marking schedules, assessment and reporting deadlines etc, they cannot be ‘classroom ready’. Theory and practicums provide snapshots, insights, and ‘trial runs’, and graduates test their commitment to pursuing a career in education. A beginning teacher comes in to the profession with knowledge and expectations, and the school takes on the responsibility of fashioning these through experience into a repertoire of effective practices. Is the knowledge base broad and deep enough? We see graduates, surprisingly, coming through with limited knowledge and skills in ICT, for example, folder structure, file management, an understanding of computer drives, backing up etc that need to be understood and taught by every teacher in every subject. We also would like to see graduates with much greater knowledge of curriculum design principles and frameworks.

Ensuring modern and adequate professional experience placements throws up some key challenges. Schools have been pushing ahead with contemporary educational practices, with teaching staff upskilling on the job through agendas such as evidence-based practices, transdisciplinary and inquiry focused curriculum, and diagnostic feedback cycles. The shift in what it ‘looks and feels like’ to be a teacher has been quite significant. Are teacher preparation programs keeping pace with this? Not as effectively as schools need. We have entered a period of time in which close cooperation between universities and schools would benefit both parties. We see greater growth and development of training teachers when they spend ongoing and sustained practicums with us: we get to understand the individual and team them up with a staff member who will best facilitate their suite of experiences.

The reports focus on induction as part of the continuum of teacher education important. The effective induction of beginning teachers makes a real and positive difference to their development and wellbeing. I believe induction should be viewed as a formal part of the cycle of training, maximising the investment made in the first two parts of the cycle, theory and practicums. To be effective, the beginning teacher needs time built in to their workflow to meet with an expert mentor, and to plan and execute observations and professional learning experiences that align with their context.

The academic
Professor Deborah Corrigan, Deputy Dean Faculty of Education Monash University

The report and government response focus to a significant degree on evidence-based practice and what they say is an overhaul of the national accreditation process for initial teacher education programs with full accreditation contingent on evidence of successful graduate outcomes.

What counts as evidence is going to be the interesting question. Accreditation is based on gaining accreditation for a proposed program for the next five years. So accreditation is in the future, while evidence is from data in the past, there is a mismatch here between expectation and implementation. The consistency of judgement made by accreditation panels needs to be based on whether the designed course will produce the evidence for the required practices,

The report calls for greater transparency of selection criteria used by universities. Monash University publishes their selection criteria. In 2015 we did not accept students with an ATAR below 75 and all students have Mathematics (to Year 11). We encourage the use of personal information forms on application and also read them so that we can gain some insights into personal attributes for teaching. In future, we will probably insist on the completion of these forms as part of the application process.

The issue of personal literacy and numeracy tests is in response to the requirement that entrants should be in the top 30% of the (adult) population for personal literacy and numeracy. The notion that ATAR as some measure of knowledge and skills is being tested here, if an additional test is required. It is also an entry requirement, not a graduating requirement and so would need to be at the cost of the applicant as part of the application process. Universities develop courses under some tight guidelines for the award of a degree; this requirement for personal literacy and numeracy is about a measure of whether an applicant is suitable to undertake an initial teacher education program. Universities would not be accepting the cost of these tests as part of their remit to provide award programs.

There is little agreement about what classroom readiness means across the profession. There is significant work to be done from all stakeholders to provide some clarity around this, although it may be a difficult task as each context is different. The professional standards for teachers has attempted to define what is required across the different career stages and perhaps more attention needs to be paid by the profession as a whole as to what classroom readiness means at all levels of expertise of teachers (and not just at the graduate level). Are there expectations around what would be a classroom readiness for an expert or lead teacher?

A consistent approach to beginning teacher induction actually needs to begin as students enter ITE programs - not when they enter the workforce as for many entry to the workforce is about CRT work and multiple short term contracts. Current data indicates new graduates are taking about 5 years to gain ongoing employment and that there entry to the profession is through CRT work most probably and if they are luck - short term and multiple contracts.

Regarding strengthening school/university partnerships in professional experience and given the strong focus on evidence, then professional experience partnership agreements will form part of this - it will need to be clear what each of the partners will be expected to provide as part of this process. This means that the models of professional experience need to be different - and that one teacher to one student will no longer be the expectation. What schools will provide to the professional experience and what universities will provide will need to be documented as part of the evidence trail. It will also ensure dialogue between schools and universities, but the models need to be tailored for different contexts. No one size fits all is possible here.

National research and workforce planning capabilities is an area for significant work. There is little data provided about supply and demand and what data does exist has so many gaps that it bears little recognition of the situation. Even with a number of reports released recently, there is clearly an inadequate view of the current situation. If there are no job prospects for graduates, it will be difficult to provide some data about the effectiveness of teacher education and teaching practices.