Opinion article on initial teacher education

It’s the biggest shake-up of teacher-training ever, but too many new teachers are still flying blind and set up to fail.

Education boffins, policy makers and teacher-trainers from around Australia met today in Sydney at Implementing the Teacher Education Reforms event to discuss the progress of major reforms to improve the quality of teacher candidates, teacher-training courses and new teacher induction.

I’d say that the reforms are long overdue, but this is a battle-weary and reformed-out sector. What else do you expect when you have 102 back-to-back reviews of teacher education, apart from further demoralisation and exhaustion of teachers and teacher-trainers?

The reasons for the reforms and reviews are familiar. Too many students graduate from teaching courses only to find they are not properly prepared for the challenges and complexities of the job. So brutal is the situation that up to 50 per cent of them quit within five years.

And that’s if they even get a teaching job in the first place, with only about half of graduates securing full-time teaching work.
What a waste of time and money.

We all know about Australia’s lacklustre schooling results. Performance in most assessed areas have been stagnant or falling for over 15 years. We have more stragglers and fewer high-achievers in our schools than ever before.

This dire situation won’t turn around without well-trained, well-supported, highly valued teachers in every classroom.
That’s why it’s worth talking about these newest and biggest reforms, described as both a game-changer and a paradigm shift.
For the first time in Australia, teacher-training courses are required to have common evidence requirements.

And for the first time, both graduates and courses will have to demonstrate their impact through teaching performance ­assessments.

There will also be a workforce planning and matching component, to get the subject expertise to where the biggest shortages exist.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

But as good as this all sounds, there’s a gaping hole. It’s up to each institution to develop its own impact assessments. This means wide variation in interpretation, rigour and standards.

A big missing piece of information is feedback from actual students on each teacher’s practice.

Timely, fine-grain and comparable data, linked to the national standards for teaching, can help identify each teacher’s strengths and weaknesses. This gives teachers things to celebrate and motivate, and concrete information on what needs most attention and support.

Pivot’s survey and resources are now being used in 50,000 classrooms around Australia, from Sydney suburbs to the remote Northern Territory.

It also tells their trainers the things they need to be focusing on, so all of our new teachers are classroom-ready when they graduate.

An edu-tech start-up set up by Aussie teachers, policy experts and researchers fed up with these gaps has developed such a survey using the best international evidence, and adapted it for Australian schools.

Pivot’s survey and resources are now being used in 50,000 classrooms around Australia, from Sydney suburbs to the remote Northern Territory.

Teachers love the insights it provides. They help them play to their strengths, and share the practices ­behind these strengths with other teachers.

Their results are confidential to them, so they know the results can only be used constructively and not punitively. It also helps pinpoint what isn’t working and ways to fix it. In one teacher’s words, “it’s helpful, because what you think you are best at, or doing, is not necessarily the students’ experience”.

Principals love it because they have clearer view of the biggest strengths and professional developments needs of their school — by teaching area and year level.

And students like it because they are being heard, and can see their feedback is transforming teaching for the better.
Bringing effective, evidence-based tools such as this from schools into teacher-training courses could make a big difference in understanding and enhancing teacher impact, allowing teachers and teacher-trainers around Australia to understand what is and isn’t working well.

Without it, teachers are flying blind on some of most important aspects of their job. And the job is too important to let them and their students down.

Gonski 2.0 urged governments and schools to put students at the centre and support teachers with the time and tools needed to do the job.

Let’s get it done, now.

This article was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 15 May