Classroom ready teachers

These two teachers left tenured uni jobs to return to the classroom. You’ll never believe what happened next.

Kimberley and Ange shared their back-to-school story in January this year. So, what’s it been like?  How is it working out for them?

An introduction from Ange

As Term 1 ended, a student soiled his pants in my office. When the end of Term 2 rolled around, I was laughing with colleagues about my (in)appropriate response to being told, ‘That wasn’t a fart, Miss’.

How did I respond? “Oh s**t.”

This wasn’t exactly how I had envisaged my re-entry to secondary school! However, before the school year had started, I found myself acting as Assistant Principal (AP) rather than being classroom-based as originally planned and detailed in our original AARE blog post. As someone pointed out early on in my new gig, they hoped I realised that being an AP was all about the three Ds – dickheads, dunnies and disasters. At that point, I thought they’d missed the elusive 4th D: dogs. I had spent significant time in my first few weeks coaxing two wayward dogs (whom I came to know by name) off-site. Humour aside, I hadn’t previously thought much about the AP position in a secondary school. I have been struck by the humility that being the ‘wing-woman’ has brought me, alongside a much-needed reality check of what life in my community can be like for students and their families. It is with a new-found respect that I work to pave the way for more productive learning experiences and improved school engagement for students and teachers alike. Despite this unplanned re-routing of my return-to-school journey, I am grateful for this twist in the road and all that it is teaching me. Kimberley’s return to the classroom has also revealed some unforeseen surprises, one of these being that she now wears a red whistle on her lanyard in addition to her staff ID card and knows the right ‘pattern’ to whistle to signal the end of playtime when she does her weekly Kindergarten lunch duty!

In this second blog post, we reconsider and expand upon four tensions in our return to schools, after resigning our tenured positions in teacher education.

Tension 1: Positioning ourselves as ‘Pracademics’

Ahead of the school year starting, Kimberley received a phone call from one of her new colleagues, just confirming what she’d like the students to call her. It made Kimberley pause. Was the question in relation to whether she intended to use both of her surnames – admittedly, long – or her title as ‘Dr’? Other staff in the school holding doctorates, including the previous principal, used the title ‘Dr’ so as a primary classroom teacher who had earned the qualification, she reflected … why shouldn’t she? In seeking to occupy a ‘pracademic’ role, perhaps using the title would also signal her intention to ‘operate as a bridge betwixt and between research and practice’ (Netolicky, 2020, ) to her new colleagues and others in the wider school community. Certainly, using the title ‘Dr’ has led to many curious questions from students as well as opening up a range of conversations with colleagues and parents, including those with or undertaking doctorates themselves. But perhaps in other schools, this could have created a barrier rather than a bridge?

Tension 2: The challenge of maintaining currency in teacher education 

In the first few weeks, it was hard for Ange to not run her learning through the lens of ‘What does this mean for initial teacher education?’ She had sharp pangs of guilt upon realising that she had not been preparing her pre-service teachers for the reality of the contemporary classroom. While Ange had maintained strong partnerships with schools, her dawning realisation has been that this is not enough and not the same as being embedded in a school context. Even then, the pace of change is fast. Within this six-month period, for example, a greater awareness of consent education has emerged as an area for teacher expertise. As required through the national accreditation process (see: Program Standard 5.5 – hyperlink –, currency in schools is critical. Our experience raises questions, however, about what actually constitutes ‘currency’ and how this might be practicably achieved. 

Tension 3: Recalibrating our professional identities 

Returning to a classroom position for Kimberley has brought the anticipated joys of getting to know and connecting with the 10, 11 and 12 year old boys in her Year 6 class, to be able to create possibilities for engaging learning. But recognising opportunities to make teaching engaging and satisfying for herself as well has been vital in this process, and she’s been fortunate to be working alongside a supportive team of colleagues. How we’ve grown to see ourselves as educators over these first 6 months back in schools has been shaped not only by our own images or expressions of ourselves as teachers, but how others – our new and former colleagues, students and parents – have perceived and constructed us. As we’ve made sense of and enacted our new roles, Beijaard and Meijer’s (2017, p. 177), the notion of teacher identity as ‘a complex configuration of personal and professional factors that more or less influence each other’ has been reinforced for each of us. Kimberley’s decision to move into a generalist primary teaching role was deliberate; she wanted to again experience the daily realities of being a teacher. But her own personal and professional growth has also been fostered by opportunities to coach and mentor colleagues and lead professional learning initiatives within her school, contributing to maintaining her identity as a teacher educator.

Tension 4: Walking the ‘knowledgeable rookie’ tightrope

In the lead up to starting, Ange lost some sleep about her distinct lack of knowledge about process and procedure in schools. While she was intimately familiar with HR requirements in higher education, she had no idea about this new context. What about if she ‘broke a rule’? In working with students and their families, the stakes seemed somewhat higher. While this concern quickly paled into insignificance – it turns out process is process in most situations – there was still a sense from others that with our academic backgrounds, we would have all the answers. This was evident when a term in, Ange’s principal quizzed her on which pedagogical model she subscribed to and she froze. She doesn’t believe in one specific pedagogical model. Ange felt revealed as a fraud! It was a pivotal probing question, which caused her to consider her authentic voice and find strength in being vulnerable. 

A conclusion from Kimberley

At the start of Term 1, in conversation with my principal, he commented that I’d successfully jumped off the academic cliff, and I replied that I believed that my parachute had opened! So what are we each anticipating next? Ange and I can see many possibilities for our own continued growth as educators in our respective schools. Perhaps most importantly, we believe that we can meaningfully contribute both personally and professionally in our school communities. But the realities of being a teacher in 2021, with constant and seemingly growing pedagogical as well as administrative and compliance pressures, have made me question these relentless demands on teachers. Time is a precious commodity in schools, as researchers have highlighted. I now am experiencing first hand the extended time beyond the regular working day that is necessary for me to fulfil my role. As ‘pracademics’, a future challenge for us appears to be to continue to contribute our expertise, and conduct collaborative research from within schools to support sustainable models for change.

Dr. Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn (University of Technology Sydney and Newington College) started her career as a primary teacher, and after time working as a casual academic and research assistant, took up a tenured academic position at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2004. She completed her PhD in 2010. Highlights in Kimberley’s time at UTS have included opportunities to collaborate in leading externally funded research evaluations of science education initiatives, as well as accompanying preservice teachers on international professional experiences to Samoa and Bhutan. This year, she joined the staff at Wyvern House, Newington College as a Year 6 classroom teacher. Kimberley wears glasses in the photo.

Dr Ange Fitzgerald (University of Southern Queensland and Mirboo North Secondary College) is recognised for her experience and expertise in science education, particularly through her explorations of quality learning and teaching practices in primary science education from a number of angles. While she entered higher education as a teacher educator and PhD student in 2007, she has previously spent time away from higher education as an Australian Government-sponsored volunteer in the Middle East. In 2021, Ange was meant to return to the classroom as a mathematics and digital technologies teacher but that’s not quite how it worked out. Ange is not wearing glasses in the photo.

Giving up tenure: “I won’t pretend that I’m not a bit scared about this decision.”

By Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn and Ange Fitzgerald

An introduction from Kimberley

It is widely acknowledged that these are turbulent times in the Australian tertiary sector. Many universities are facing significant budget deficits in 2020 and into the near future largely as a result of international students being unable to return during the COVID-19 pandemic. For academics, there is considerable uncertainty as degrees are put on ‘pause’ or discontinued, as workload models are reviewed, as programs are restructured and staff consider a future in a much leaner working environment. In late November, I found myself discussing my own decision to apply for one of the voluntary redundancies that my university was offering as a few colleagues met for drinks after work. As we talked, one of them turned to me as an aside and asked, ‘So, for you, was it the push or the pull?’ 

For some time, as a teacher educator, I’d personally been feeling the pull of returning to a primary school teaching role. I was feeling increasingly distant from the professional everyday realities of my graduating students. An extended time of working from home during 2020 had really brought into focus how the energy of being physically in the same room as my students was vital to my own sense of satisfaction in my teaching. With my youngest child finishing primary school, my connection to K-6 education as a parent also was ending. I’d sat at the Year 6 parent information session at the start of 2020 feeling somewhat envious of his teachers, imagining the many creative possibilities, challenges and opportunities for collaboration. I was envisaging myself with my own class. The pull of primary classroom teaching again was really strong for me, and after 20 years of working in a university, the time seemed ripe – it was now or never. 

It turned out that I was not alone in feeling the pull. My colleague, Associate Professor Angela Fitzgerald, had reached a similar conclusion. For her, a changing context signalled an opportunity to step away from an academic leadership role in the tertiary sector to return to a rural secondary school as a lead teacher. In this blog post, we share four tensions that we are experiencing as we ready ourselves to return to classroom as teachers, not for a semester’s sabbatical but as a result of resigning from tenured positions.

Tension 1: The departure card test

What do you write as your ‘usual occupation’ on your departure card when you are leaving Australia for international travel? We can conclude from a quick straw poll that many Education academics write ‘teacher’. As teacher educators, we continue to see ourselves primarily as teachers, even when others may not position us as such. A strong identity as a teacher is maintained despite the many other aspects of academic work, including research, service and leadership. As we (re)engage in school-based teaching roles, a tension exists in how we may enact the model of a ‘pracademic’ as we straddle the spaces occupied by schools and universities. As such, we see ourselves occupying hybrid spaces. We both will hold honorary positions in our current universities to enable ongoing affiliation, collaborative research and publications. It remains unknown how this will position us or how others will see us as we attempt to bridge or dwell in the boundaries.

Tension 2: The challenge of maintaining currency in teacher education 

As identified in the 2014 TEMAG issues paper, many teacher educators have spent extended periods of time in the university sector which presents a challenge to maintaining professional currency. One science teacher education colleague’s approach has been to teach science once a week in a kindergarten classroom, over many years. We are aware of a number of teacher education academics who have dipped in and out of classroom teaching roles for semester- or year-long sabbaticals, such as Tom Russell, Jeff Northfield, Dick Gunstone  and Jason Ritter. A point of difference here is that we have both taken up ongoing positions in schools requiring us to resign tenured positions, which is a move that makes our situations somewhat more permanent and undefined.

Tension 3: Are you crazy to give up tenure?! 

The tension for us here lies in what others expect as the ‘next steps’ in our academic careers and speaks to what we consider as a decision of the heart. Our respective decisions to leave continuing academic positions usually have been met with positive and polite reactions, which often include sentiments such as ‘brave’, ‘courageous’,  and ‘How lucky is the school?’ At the same time, there has also been a sense of suspicion from others, either implicit – ‘Why are you doing this?’ – or more explicit – ‘I’m sure you’ll be back after a few years.’ In some cases, sharing our decision has opened up conversations with teacher education colleagues who are likewise deliberating on a return to school-based roles or different educational opportunities that speak to their own decisions of the heart. We also have been anticipating possible reactions from our new teaching colleagues when we arrive at our schools. 

Tension 4: Being a ‘knowledgeable rookie’ 

After extended time and varied experiences in teacher education, we feel as though there’s so much we know, but then there’s so much we don’t know. With significant changes in school education since we last held class teaching positions, in many ways we will encounter similar issues to novice teachers; the very novice teachers whom we’ve been preparing for the classroom! So while we do know what to expect, how it will play out for each of us is not yet known.

A conclusion from Ange 

I won’t pretend that I’m not a bit scared about this decision. I am. I have no idea what this experience has in store for me, but that is part of the ‘pull’ in making this call and embarking on a new educational journey. If something scares me, then I have to do it! The ‘push’, for me, would be realising that I am no longer being equipped with the skills and knowledge to deal with the realities of the classroom. But what sort of teacher educator would that make me if that were the case? 

I was sharing with Joseph, my husband, the fear I was experiencing around this push and pull. He looked at me quizzically and reminded me of where I was 12 months earlier. I was delivering a closing keynote address to 3000 teachers outside of Mexico City in a huge convention centre with a front row of dignatires and high-profiled education bureaucratics. He reminded me that many people would be scared of that scenario when I only felt that initial kick of few butterflies. He reassured that I’d probably be ok with a room full of 15-year-olds! 

While it might all be relative, we both have a lot to give our respective schools, but we also have a lot to learn. The relationship is mutual and reciprocal. We look forward to leaning into these four tensions and teasing them out as we engage whole-heartedly in our lived experiences as classroom teachers. While we will be in the moment and tackling all that classroom life throws our way, we plan to capture our learnings, reflect on them collaboratively and share them with you. This is our way of making sense of our reality in transitioning from tenured teacher educator to ongoing teacher, a little explored area in the research body of knowledge.

Dr. Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn (University of Technology Sydney and Newington College) started her career as a primary teacher, and after time working as a casual academic and research assistant, took up a tenured academic position at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2004. Kimberley’s PhD was awarded in 2010, engaging her in a case study of how a Year 5 class and teacher negotiated and co-created opportunities for students’ interest in science to develop. Highlights in Kimberley’s time at UTS have included opportunities to collaborate in leading externally funded research evaluations of science education initiatives, as well as accompanying preservice teachers on international professional experiences to Samoa and Bhutan. In 2021, she will be joining the staff at Wyvern House, Newington College as a Year 6 classroom teacher.

Dr Ange Fitzgerald (University of Southern Queensland and Mirboo North Secondary College) is recognised for her experience and expertise in science education, particularly through her explorations of quality learning and teaching practices in primary science education from a number of angles. While she entered higher education as a teacher educator and PhD student in 2007, she has previously spent time away from higher education as an Australian Government-sponsored volunteer in the Middle East. In 2021, Ange will reacquaint herself with the classroom as a mathematics and digital technologies teacher. She will also be responsible for a whole-school approach to the development and implementation of programs informing staff professional learning and student transitions.

Beginner teachers are NOT under prepared and NOT bad at managing behaviour. Here’s the evidence

For years claims have been circulating that newly graduated teachers are under prepared to teach in today’s often challenging classrooms, and that they are bad at classroom management. Thanks to mainstream media interest, and critics within education circles, these claims have led to an increasing array of government interventions in Initial Teacher Education in universities around Australia. What, how and to whom teacher education is delivered has been thoroughly examined and churned in the bid to improve teaching quality and student outcomes.

As teacher educators, intimately involved in teaching our new teachers and supporting them as they embark on their careers, we were deeply concerned about these claims so went looking for evidence of what was going wrong.

This blog post is about our research and what we found.

Be surprised, we found no evidence that beginning teachers in Australia are unprepared for the classroom or that they are bad at behaviour management.  

We believe extensive reforms have been made to Initial Teacher Education in Australia to ‘improve’ teacher quality without any evidence to support the claim that beginning teachers are less competent than experienced teachers.

Our research, carried out in Australian schools, found that most beginning teachers in fact engaged in higher levels of emotional support than their more experienced colleagues, and for most, behaviour management is not a problem.

Background on government ‘reforms’ to make teachers “classroom ready”

Following the now infamous 2014 Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, which formalised the (we believe false) claim that graduate teachers were unprepared for the classroom, Australian universities have responded to accreditation requirements by

Various state governments have also made changes that impact universities intake criteria and course content: Queensland, for example, has mandated that students entering primary teacher education degrees must have four semesters of sound achievement in English, Maths and Science. New South Wales has signalled that to be eligible for employment in NSW government schools, students commencing a teaching degree from 2019, must:

  • Receive a minimum credit grade point average in their university degree.
  • Prove sound practical knowledge and ability, which will be reflected by an assessment of every single practicum report.
  • Show superior cognitive and emotional intelligence measured via a psychometric assessment.
  • Demonstrate their commitment to the values of public education in a behavioural interview.

Those doing online degrees are out.

None of these measures are bad, in and of themselves, although they have created significant compliance burden for teacher educators and schools of education, as well as increasing the fiscal pressure on schools and faculties of education.

The problem is that these interventions into university teacher education have come without any supporting empirical evidence that beginning teachers are less competent than their more experienced colleagues.

Our research into the teaching quality and classroom management skills of newly graduated teachers

What research method did we use?

There are different ways of measuring the quality of teaching. The two main ways involve using test scores (like NAPLAN for example) or by observing teachers teaching, and measuring the presence or absence of teaching practices known to add positively to students’ social, behavioural, and academic outcomes. The latter method is, of course, much more expensive because it uses direct observation, but it also can’t be manipulated like test scores can.

One method of direct observation is the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation measure developed by University of Virginia education specialists Bridget Hamre and Robert Pianta. We used this method in our six-year longitudinal study.

In our paper published in Teaching and Teacher Education this week, we compare the CLASS scores of beginning teachers (0-3 years’ experience) and experienced teachers (more than 3 years’ experience) and found no significant differences between the groups.

We used the CLASS system in our study investigating the development of severely disruptive behaviour of students because we were interested in learning the contribution made by the quality of teaching. In the very first year of this six-year longitudinal study, we noticed three standout teachers who were all in their early 20s and wrote about it in the AARE EduResearch Matters blog.

That’s also when we decided to ask how many years our teacher participants had been teaching in our research interviews because we were interested to see whether the excellent practice we were seeing bore out over time with a much larger number of participants.

Six years later, we can finally reveal: yes, it does and no, those three early career teachers were not an anomaly. Beginning teachers really do cut it.

We then broke our experienced teacher category into two (4-5 years and more than 5 years) and compared the CLASS scores of teachers in these groups with beginning teachers (0-3 years’ experience). This time there were significant differences with the 4-5 year experience group achieving significantly lower quality in three dimensions: Productivity, Instructional Learning Formats, and Negative Climate.

Importantly, there were very few participants in the 4-5 year experience group. While these findings do align with the possibility of a post three-year decline for some teachers, the findings should be interpreted with caution as extreme outliers can have a disproportionate influence on group means.

What’s the upshot?

We followed more than 200 students over six years and very few of their teachers declined participation. Their length of teacher experience ranged from 3 weeks to 38 years.

Basically, beginning teachers performed just as well as, or better than, teachers with more years of experience, regardless of the groups we compared them with. And, while all research is impacted by self-selection to some degree, in this study that was mitigated by our relationship with and presence in seven participating schools and the longitudinal nature of our project.

We found no evidence that beginning teachers were unprepared for the classroom or that they are bad at behaviour management. In fact, we found that most beginning teachers engaged in higher levels of emotional support than their more experienced colleagues. And behaviour management was the second highest scoring dimension of the 10 dimensions measured by the CLASS.

This evidence is good news for beginning teachers who must have been feeling pretty bruised in recent years and good news for preservice teachers who are scaling an increasing number of hurdles to prove their worth. It is also good news for teacher educators who work incredibly hard under enormous pressure to continually revise and refine their content and to support their students to do well.

Rather than implementing any more graduation hurdles designed to “vet” entry to the profession or further destabilising university teacher education, governments need to look at the evidence and turn instead to finding better ways of directing support to all teachers and provide intelligently targeted, quality professional learning to those who need it.

Professor Linda Graham is Director of The Centre for Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Linda is currently Chief Investigator on several externally funded research projects including “Which children develop severely disruptive school behaviour?”, a six-year longitudinal study funded by the Australian Research Council. She has published more than 80 books, chapters, and journal articles, as well as numerous pieces published in The Conversation.

Associate Professor Sonia White is an academic in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education and researcher in The Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE) at QUT. Sonia is a registered mathematics teacher and her research investigates children’s early learning and development.

Dr Kathy Cologon is a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Kathy has a particular interest in research and practice relating to the development and support of inclusive education, with a view towards greater recognition of the rights of all children.

Professor Robert Pianta is Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and founding Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). He is a leading expert in the field of developmental psychology with much of his research devoted to supporting teachers use of quality teaching practices that best support children’s academic, social-emotional and behavioural development. With his colleagues at CASTL, he has led the development of well-known measures including the Teacher-Student Relationship Scale and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS).

How we talk about teachers is changing. Does it matter?

The way teachers are talked about in the public space is important. It affects teacher morale and how people might interact with them both professionally and socially. It even affects the way new teachers perceive their career pathway unfolding, or not. As an educator working in teacher education I am especially interested in the way early career teachers are talked about, as this immediately affects our students when they graduate.

Early career teachers seem to be a current obsession of both politicians and media commentators. To me the message in the public space was going something like this: if new teachers in Australia were brighter/of a higher ‘quality’/more suitable/better trained/more dedicated/harder working/perfectly-chosen-in-every-way our standards would improve. It was a hunch that this is a change of direction in how early career teachers were being talked about in the public space so I decided to embark on an analysis of policy and media texts to explore how early career teachers are talked about and what, if anything has changed.

What I did

I chose to compare documents from 1998/99 to those from 2014/15. With over 100 reviews of teaching and teacher education having been held on a state and national scale since the late 1970s, there were plenty of sources to choose from.

Specifically, I examined the Commonwealth Government’s response, provided in 1999, to the report from a 1998 Senate Inquiry into the status of the teaching profession known as A Class Act, and the 2015 Commonwealth Government’s response to the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers.

I chose the 2015 response because it represented the most recent ‘policy settlement’ in relation to early career teachers at the time of the research. I chose the response to the 1998 report because it was the most recent general review that had been conducted on a federal level, focused at least in part on early career teachers. I also considered that the 15 or so years between the two responses, and the fact that the responses both came from Coalition governments, made them a good comparison.

I supplemented these with 228 newspaper articles from the twelve national and capital city daily newspapers published in 1998/99 and 2014/15 identified using the search terms ‘graduate teachers’ and ‘teaching graduates’.

In analysing the texts, I was interested in whether and how far early career teachers were represented by government and news media sources as a ‘problem’, and whether this had changed over time. Some of this research has recently been published in the Journal of Education Policy.

What I found

1998: A Class Act

In a nutshell, the problem with early career teachers in 1998 was that there were not enough of them. There was a lot of talk about a current or impending shortage of new teachers. This was linked to an identified problem with the status of the teaching profession. (Status was low therefore people, supposedly, did not want a teaching career.) The report argues teacher status could and should be improved by the introduction of things like a “code of high professional standards” for teachers.

A very interesting aspect of all this was that the Government saw the implementation and ongoing assessment of professional practice against such standards as “the responsibility of the profession itself”. Oh how times have changed!

Other ideas to attract and retain teachers back in 1998 were to give beginning teachers better support through induction programs and improved employment conditions (including a move away from short-term contracts to secure employment).

In terms of teacher education, it was understood that while some national consistency was desirable, it was very important to ensure the differing needs of different states and territories were able to be met. Indeed, these observations about the tension between national consistency and local requirements infuse the whole Government response to A Class Act.

Early career teachers were understood to be novices, rather than ‘fully formed’, working toward becoming expert practitioners in this first part of their careers:

It is generally acknowledged by all those involved – university educators, practising teachers, education departments and beginning teachers themselves – that no pre-service training can fully prepare new teachers to perform at their full capacity from their first day at work. This is not a reflection on the quality of new teachers nor on the standard of pre-service training. It is a recognition of the complexity of teaching and of the large number of variables…affecting a teacher’s performance. (Commonwealth of Australia 1998, 204)

2015: Classroom Ready Teachers

Jump forward to 2015 and early career teachers are a problem on a number of fronts. They are said to be lacking in basic literacy and numeracy skills, lacking in the ‘right’ motivations for entering the profession, lacking the skills they need to make a positive impact on student learning and, of course, lacking in ‘classroom readiness’.

Absent from the 2015 response is the recognition that good teaching practice is something that begins development during initial teacher education and continues well into and beyond the early years of teaching. While the response does argue for “a nationally consistent approach to the induction and support of beginning teachers to make sure they reach their full potential once they enter the profession”, it also provides a strong vision of beginning teachers who can claim an impact on student learning and be ‘classroom ready’ from the outset.

Solutions proffered to the ‘problem’ of early career teachers in 2015 were many and varied. Alternative entry pathways for teacher education courses to catch those ‘unsuitable’ would-be teachers, is one. Others include the introduction of literacy and numeracy testing for initial teacher education students (designed to catch those with poor skills prior to graduation) and a ‘tightening up’ of requirements and processes for registration of initial teacher education courses.

Significantly, the delegation of greater powers to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is seen as a key mechanism for remedying the problems of early career teachers.

What has changed?

So there’s been a shift in how early career teachers are talked about in the public space. They have gone from having a problem (not enough of them, lacking in status, not getting enough help) to being the problem.

As I see it, there is political expediency in laying blame for ‘falling standards’ or ‘stagnating standards’ (or anything else that might be going wrong in schooling) onto new teachers. They’re an easy target. Also the focus on early career teachers has easily segued into further action to federalise control of teacher spaces.

I believe the way we talk about teachers in the public space does matter and how it plays (deliberately or not) into power shifts is important. Early career doctors are not blamed for all that is wrong with our health system, new politicians are not blamed for stagnation in government policy, new lawyers aren’t blamed for expensive out-dated practices in law.

Early career teachers are embarking on a career that can help change the world. They deserve as much support as we can give them, not an unfounded suspicion of their motives and skills, especially at a time when teacher retention and attrition are ongoing concerns.


Nicole Mockler is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Sydney. She has a background in secondary school teaching and teacher professional learning. In the past she has held senior leadership roles in secondary schools, and after completing her PhD in Education at the University of Sydney in 2008, she joined the University of Newcastle in 2009, where she was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education until early 2015. Nicole’s research interests are in education policy and politics, professional learning and curriculum and pedagogy, and she also continues to work with teachers and schools in these areas.