28 May 2024

Educating teachers: 'It's not just about bums on seats'

12:18 pm on 28 May 2024
Kelburn Normal School teacher Hugo Miller

New teacher Hugo Miller studied a one-year postgraduate diploma with 40 percent of the time spent in classrooms, but "would have loved more time in schools". Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Universities warn changes to teacher education won't fix teacher shortages, and that it is not realistic to expect teachers to graduate fully prepared to work.

Teacher education has been under scrutiny with reports warning some new teachers feel unprepared, and that a significant minority of new primary teachers do not have a good grounding in maths or science.

The Teaching Council says the system of teacher education needs an overhaul, and the government this week announced a $53 million boost for school-based teacher education programmes, including $20,000 stipends for their student teachers.

Alison Kearney from the Council of Deans of Education said the extra government funding was welcome, but she doubted it would make much difference to teacher shortages.

"Over the past 17 years there's been a 28 percent decline in graduates exiting all initial teacher education programmes," she said.

"Another 1500 new primary and secondary teachers over four years is a good start. It equates to around 375 new teachers a year but if you're asking me if I think it will make a difference, if the trend of declining initial teacher education numbers continues I'm not sure that it will make a difference.... It's not just about bums on seats in initial teacher ed, it's about making teaching more attractive, looking at their pay, working conditions."

Professor Kearney said changes were needed, such as greater consistency between the various teacher education programmes. The council would also like to see stipends paid to all student teachers.

But she warned that people were expecting too much of teacher education.

"Becoming a teacher is not just a matter of completing a course or a programme," she said.

"Initial teacher education needs to be seen as the first part. But there are two years after that where beginning teachers need to be carefully transitioned and mentored into the role."

Kearney said at least 40 percent of teacher education was spent in classroom placements.

"Time in schools is great for giving students a chance to see good practice in action, to learn tips and skills and a range of practices but universities and other tertiary providers are great places for developing deep knowledge about important aspects of teaching, for example neurodiversity. So I think what's important is getting the mix right," she said.

Kelburn Normal School principal Andrew Bird

Kelburn Normal School principal says the calibre of student teacher has not declined, but he has noticed some who should never have started in the first place. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Kelburn Normal School principal and Normal and Model Schools Association president Andrew Bird said teachers' work had become more complicated and some students might need more time to graduate.

"It's really important that providers and schools are saying 'Actually this person needs more time in their practice or in their development or the teacher training before they can go into the classroom'," he said.

"As a normal school, we often get students for their second placements where it was quite tricky for their first one and then that's where we've really got to say, 'Actually this person is not suitable for the classroom' and make that call. And that's really hard."

He said in general the calibre of student teacher had not declined but he had noticed some who should never have started in the first place.

"I have seen more students come to us with differences or unsuitability for teaching," he said.

Bird said that might be due to efforts to attract more students simply to address the shortage of teachers.

"The big thing is trying to get the right people, the top people into teaching and that lies with the status of the profession," he said.

Bird said the role of mentor teachers, who helped student teachers during their school placements, needed greater recognition and funding.

"There is a two-year programme towards full graduation. And so schools have to take on that role in a really serious way and nurture and mentor those new teachers."

'It's a big job'

Hugo Miller started his first job as a primary teacher at Kelburn Normal School earlier this year.

"It's a lot you know. It's a big job, it's got a lot that comes along with it. I've been really enjoying it," he said.

Miller said he studied a one-year postgraduate diploma with 40 percent of the time spent in classrooms.

"I would have loved more time in schools. I really took so much away from that and from the guidance of a mentor teacher or an associate teacher," he said.

But Miller said he did not believe an entirely school-based course would be better than a course with some placements.

Ashleigh, a primary school teacher in her second year of work, told RNZ her one-year course had some gaps.

"I don't remember covering anything to do with behaviour management in a classroom which I think is probably something quite important. There's definitely some parts that I don't think they covered particularly well but then I don't know what they can be expected to do in a year," she said.

Wiremu Wilson-Diamond is in his second year of a school-based Bachelor of Teaching with the University of Waikato.

He worked as a dean at Kaitaia College under a limited authority teach and went to Ahipara School for the practical component of his course.

"I'm loving it. It's completely different energy. So here at the college I'm forcing my energy on to the students whether they are listening or not, but at the primary these children are drawing the energy from you, they're just little sponges," he said.

Wilson-Diamond said he was learning valuable behaviour-management techniques from his placement, an area he believed was lacking for some secondary teachers.

He said he would not have undertaken the course if it had not been school-based.

A group of Auckland schools recently launched their own in-school teacher education programme, the Teachers' Institute, after four years working with Waikato University.

Institute chair David Ferguson from Westlake Boys High School said the schools hoped their course would better prepare graduates for teaching.

"We think by exposing the trainees to more in-class practising, watching really good teachers teach, that's a better way of preparing than being at university full time," he said.

Asked if other approaches to teacher education were not working, Ferguson said there were not enough teachers and school-based programmes attracted people who might not otherwise have retrained to work in schools.

"What we've found with our in-school model over the last four years is it's attracted primarily career-changers, so they're a bit older and they wouldn't have gone back to university full time," he said.

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