quality teaching

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).

Listen to the children. This is what ‘good’ teaching looks like to them

Much has been researched, written and debated about what it means to be a ‘good’ teacher. Conversations in Australia continue around quality teaching and teacher quality and the way we educate our teachers. Governments at national and state levels have specifically designed and established teacher accreditation regimes to produce ‘good’ teachers.

But despite the proliferation of public debate and political action around these issues, I was aware that the voices of students and their perspectives and experiences of being taught had been largely overlooked.

As part of a wider research project exploring the nature of exemplary history teaching, I interviewed groups of young people at four different high schools about their experiences of learning, and sought their insights and understanding into what good teaching looks like to them.

The students interviewed demonstrated a high degree of insight and understanding about the nature of teachers work and shared a strong, articulate vision about what students consider good teaching to mean. And although the students in the study were all from a variety of school backgrounds – government, independent, urban and regional – there was a clear consensus amongst the students about the aspects of teaching that were regarded as most important to them.

They valued the relationship they had with their teacher most of all. But they also recognised and were engaged by the different teaching methods their teachers used and they appreciated and were inspired by the deep knowledge their teacher had of their subject.

Relationships

Students from all schools in the study told me that their relationships with their teachers were by far the most important factor for affecting their engagement in learning. For students at the independent school Greenview College, they felt encouraged and empowered to learn with their teacher Penny, who makes an effort to get to know them as individuals.

At the start of each school year Penny writes each of her students a letter to introduce herself, and asks students to write to her in return. Penny uses the insights and understanding gained about her students to then better tailor learning experiences to their interests and passions. Penny also surveys her students regularly during the school year with one student telling me “she asks us how we like to learn and through that feedback, you can tell she took that on.”

Students make a connection between their teachers getting to know them, listening to them and the quality of their engagement in learning.

It is a connection that is especially pronounced at Bayview High School, a public school in a regional area of NSW, where challenges such as low student attendance, violence and anti-social behaviour create additional barriers to student engagement. Within this teaching context, teacher Jane achieves both high levels of engagement and above average academic results from her students, a key reason for which is the strength of the relationships and the community she establishes in her classroom. Jane’s students tell me that learning in her classroom is different because:

Lisa: It’s like a family.

Rachel: Yeah, she [Jane] is our family.

Lisa: I actually want to be here.

Rachel: It is pretty much my favourite class.

Lisa: Honestly, I skip every single class except this one.

Jade: It’s like a safe place.

Here, student’s voices are providing insight into the significance of relationships in establishing the possibilities for student engagement in learning, and reminding us that before students begin to learn they need to be welcomed to a classroom in which they feel safe and to which they belong. For students, a good teacher is someone who works to create this kind of classroom.

Pedagogy

Students in all the schools had very clear ideas about the type of classroom practices that they found most engaging and effective. None of the teachers in the study made regular use of textbooks, something that all the students interviewed made mention of as a positive aspect of their practice. The students told me that they got the most out of teaching practices that were creative and offered a variety of learning experiences, with students at one school saying it was great that “no two lessons were the same”.

For students in one outer-urban government high school, they felt energised and enthused by their teacher Dan who made innovative use of technology alongside teaching strategies such as role play with his history classes. One of Dan’s students told me:

We are young and we like things that excite us and make us happy, and [Dan] is exactly the type of teacher you want….you get excited! Like ‘Oh my God I’m going to [Dan’s] class!’….you really get excited to go in there, you go there and always have fun.

But far from valuing pedagogies that preference ‘fun’ over ‘learning’, students saw the best teachers as those who used engaging and innovative pedagogies to, as one student expressed it, “get us out of our comfort zone.” For these students, a good teacher was one who offered a variety of learning experiences that were both enjoyable and challenging.

Knowledge

All the teachers in the study were specialists in History, with an expert level of subject matter knowledge, and this expertise was both noticed and valued by their students. The students I spoke to frequently made reference to the way in which their teachers’ expert knowledge allowed them to engage in particular teaching strategies or in the way teachers made their own passion for history visible to the students. Importantly, students see teacher knowledge as visible to them through the way it translates into particular learning experiences.

For students at the independent boys’ school Churchill College, they find the enthusiasm of their history-buff teacher Max to be infectious:

Rick: You can tell he has a real passion for the subject. He actually said one class he was reading [a history book] the night before. You can tell he is really interested in the subject and that drives him.

James:    Yeah, it makes you want to be just as interested.

Students really value being taught by subject specialists, particularly when a teacher demonstrates and shares their passion for learning with their students, and even learns alongside them.

Talking to students about their teachers and seeking their thoughts about teaching can be a source of rich and meaningful data about students’ understanding and experiences of classroom learning in particular contexts. Whilst these conversations with students represent a mere starting point for considering the role of students in conversations about their education, they show us that when they are included, students can offer informed and meaningful feedback about what good teaching means to them. It is also a reminder that secondary school students, who may be taught by up to six different teachers on any given day, have real knowledge and insight into contemporary teaching practices and are able to provide meaningful commentary and feedback on these as informed agents.

We can learn much from what our students have to say about teachers and teaching and should not shy away from including them more often in these conversations.

 

 

Claire Golledge is undertaking a PhD in Education, using multiple case study methodology to examine the classroom practices of exemplary history teachers. Claire has taught History and Legal Studies in NSW secondary schools, and is a current post-graduate Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Sydney University.

 

Claire is presenting at the AARE 2018 Conference on Monday 3rd Dec on “I skip every class except this one”: the value of student voice in conversations around ‘good’ teaching.