teacher standards

Teachers are NOT under-qualified and NOT under-educated: here’s what is really happening

Australian teachers are doing well. They are not under-qualified and they are certainly not under-educated, as some media stories would have you believe. They are doing an admirable job managing exhausting workloads and constantly changing government policies and processes. They are more able than past generations to identify and help students with wide ranging needs. They are, indeed, far better qualified and prepared than those in our nation’s glorious past that so many commentators reminisce wistfully about.

In fact, our teachers today are the best qualified ever. They are educational specialists. So are their teacher educators, people like us, who prepare teachers for their professional calling. Contrary to the opinions of some media commentators and politicians, our teacher educators are also better prepared and more qualified than ever before. They design and implement innovative, intensive and rigorous teacher education programs, they deal with constantly changing policy and government requirements, and they expertly mentor and supervise their student teachers’ classroom experience.

So let’s unpick this a little just to demonstrate the trustworthiness of our opening claim.

Teacher qualifications

A two-year course was enough to educate teachers in the 1970s. And this was an improvement on the “pupil-teacher” apprenticeship approach that preceded in the 1960s which allowed a person to start teaching before they finished high school.

These days, four or five years of tertiary education is the base line for preparation to be a teacher in Australia. This is followed by mandatory ongoing professional development. Teachers possessing a higher degree are also not uncommon. The profile of teachers in Queensland, for example, shows that 70% of QLD teachers in 2016 possessed higher degrees in the field of education beyond their initial teacher qualification.

Entrance to teacher education courses

The use of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) has come under scrutiny in the news recently as a measure for entry into teacher education courses in Australia.  However less than half of those entering teaching education rely on an ATAR in any way to indicate their academic suitability. Many others enter with a post-secondary academic qualification as their measure of academic preparedness for initial teacher education. That is, they have higher than Year 12 academic achievement as their claim to academic ability.

Further, ATAR as a measure alone is not used for teacher education entry in any institution in Australia. The ATAR has been shown to have limited value for teacher education as it oversimplifies the complex attributes that assist someone to start teacher education well, and it ignores the value of the teacher education program itself.

Students entering teacher education today are assessed carefully for their motivation and capacity for a teaching career before entry. They must demonstrate they have numeracy and literacy skills better than 70% of the population. Then candidates for primary teacher education programs in Queensland must have satisfactorily completed their secondary education with demonstrable achievement in maths, a science, and English. Indeed, each regulatory jurisdiction has their own set of requirements. New South Wales, for example, requires three band five ratings (better than 80% achievement) in their senior school results.

We think much of the public debate regarding the entry standards required for teaching programs is testament to an insinuation that a four-year teacher education course can somehow be devoid of any content, or development. If we just waited four years before letting teacher candidates loose on our poor unsuspecting students, then yes, the entry standards would be pertinent. But that’s not what happens of course.

As they are studying to become a teacher, student teachers today have to meet a stringent suite of requirements to develop and demonstrate pedagogical skills, theoretical understanding, conceptual and discipline knowledge across the National Curriculum, communication skills, planning and cultural development capabilities, and so on. This is coupled with substantial in-school teaching experiences and it is all assessed through a rigorous Teacher Performance Assessment.

Teacher education courses and teacher educators

But maybe the real problem is teacher educators and the courses they teach. Are teacher educators just academics who haven’t been near a classroom for years, or in the spirit of the statement “those who can’t do … teach”, are teacher educators just a crew of failed teachers? Certainly that is what some would have you believe. It is simply not true.

Take one of our institutions for example: in our teacher education unit we have 28 academics and all of us are fully qualified and registered teachers. Over 70% of us have been school leaders, heads of department, deputy principals, principals, and/or have held regional leadership roles. The remaining 30% are no slouches; they have all had long and successful careers of an average of 10 years in school classrooms before attaining higher degrees and moving to academia. All are deeply committed to providing a quality program to develop the next generation of teachers.

The teacher education programs we use are all heavily and nationally accredited. They are rigorous and vigorous. These courses are definitely not for the fainthearted. Every student that graduates with a teacher education degree has demonstrably changed and has developed as a professional in response to the program of study and experience we provide. Every graduate meets the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Their professional registration and our accreditation as a higher education provider depend on this. Teacher education institutions are required to provide clear evidence that this is always the case.

Coping with an exhausting workload

Meanwhile for teachers, curriculum areas have grown and the reporting and record keeping obligations have become more onerous. For the average Year 6 class where a single teacher is typically responsible for pulling the entire year of learning together, there are at least eight discipline areas aligning to the national curriculum, supplemented by no less than three cross curricular priorities and seven general capabilities. On top of this there may be cultural or pastoral studies if they are at a faith-based school. So that could be 13 teaching fields for the one teacher with the one class.

Yet back in the 70s, at least in Queensland, teachers were responsible for only six or seven subject areas (depending on whether music was considered in the mix) and they were able to develop their own approaches. They did have more students per teacher: the student/teacher ratio was 24-1 in 1970 compared with 13.7 in 2016. But, there was less content to teach, and a markedly reduced requirement for record keeping, obligations to prepare for national standardised tests, and so forth.

The point is, teachers today are highly qualified professionals who cope with an astounding workload.

So, let’s stop distrusting teachers and stop questioning their qualifications to do their job. Teachers today are well prepared. They are qualified, caring and capable professionals who can be proud of their achievement in graduating from one of today’s rigorous teacher education programs.

And let’s stop distrusting teacher educators. They too are well qualified and are well placed to provide effective teacher education based on their own well-developed capacity to relate to classrooms and students.

Our teaching profession is healthy and strong, and providing a wonderful service to our children, youth and communities. Why is that so hard for some commentators and politicians to believe?

 

Professor Nan Bahr is Pro Vice Chancellor (Students), Professor and Dean of Education at Southern Cross University. In this role she is responsible for oversight and strategic management for improved engagement, experience and retention of students across the University. Professor Bahr also has specific responsibility, as Dean of Education, for the quality of the Teacher Education programs, research and service in the field of education for Southern Cross University. 

Professor Bahr has a national and international profile for educational research with over 100 publications including four books (one a best seller). Key research has been in the fields of music education, educational psychology, teacher education, adolescence, resilience, and teaching innovation in higher education. As a University Teacher, she has been awarded the University of Queensland Award for Excellence in Teaching, has been a finalist (twice) for the Australian Awards for University Teaching, and has been awarded for extended service with the Australian Defence Force.   Nan is on Twitter @NanBahr

Professor Donna Pendergast is Dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University. Her research expertise is educational transformation and efficacy, with a focus on: middle year’s education and student engagement; initial and professional teacher education; and school reform. 

Donna commenced her career as a school teacher working in secondary, P-10 and senior college settings before shifting to the role of academic, first at Queensland University of Technology, The University of Queensland, and since 2009, at Griffith University.  She has served in many roles associated with the profession including Chair of the Board of Directors of Queensland Education Leadership Institute (QELI) and Chair of the Queensland Council of Deans of Education (QCDE).  Donna has more than 160 refereed publications, 16 commissioned reports and 19 books, including the popular Teaching Middle Years: Rethinking curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, now in its third edition and the recipient of an international Choice Award as an Outstanding Academic title. Donna played a pivotal role in preparing school leaders for the shift of Year 7 to secondary and the implementation of Junior Secondary in Queensland.  In 2015 she received the Vice Chancellor’s Research Supervision Excellence Award, and in 2017 she received a National Commendation from the Australian Council of Graduate Research for Excellence in Graduate Research Supervision. Donna has recently been awarded the Australian Council for Educational Leadership Miller-Grassie Award for Outstanding Educational Leadership. Donna is on Twitter at @pendergast_d

Associate Professor Jo-Anne Ferreira is Director of the Centre for Teaching & Learning and Academic Director, SCU Online at Southern Cross University. She is responsible for enhancing teaching quality and the student learning experience, both face-to-face and online. Prior to this, she was Director, Teaching and Learning in the School of Education at Southern Cross University. She began her teaching career as a secondary English and Geography teacher in South Africa and Australia.

Jo-Anne has developed and delivered award winning professional development programs in Australia, South Africa and across the Asia-Pacific region to teachers and student teachers. She has also taught in universities in South Africa and Australia. Her research interests are in online education and the sociology of education with a special interest in post-structuralist theories of identity, embodiment and power, in systems-based change, and in environmental and sustainability education. She has most recently led a decade-long research project on systems-based change as a strategy for embedding sustainability education in teacher education.

 Note from the Ed: Our social media counters are not working properly on some browsers at the moment. As of 29/1018 of his post has been shared over 1k+ times and has been read over 11k+ times.

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers are useful to teacher education students, here’s how

There is a strong critique of the impacts of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers from educational researchers. They argue teaching standards force teachers to focus too much on producing proof of classroom successes and leadership development. At the same time policy makers, who advocate and implement the standards, claim the standards provide a common language of teaching: making it easier for teachers to talk about and share their work.

Whilst both groups are equally entitled to express their informed opinions on such an important issue for education, as we see it, there are common omissions from both accounts. Both reply on persuasive arguments rather than evidence and both do not consider the views of teachers and prospective teachers. Also, educational researchers and policy makers are not the subjects of the performance standards. For these reasons we decided it was worthwhile to seek the views of teacher education students.

We wanted to develop an understanding of the actual impact of performance standards on the practice of teacher education students, specifically in relation to the assessment of their professional experience. Our study is a small and humble contribution offered as an invitation to a debate with all interested stakeholders.

Use of teaching standards in NSW

The use of teaching standards as a performance measure for teacher quality is now more than a decade old in the state of NSW in Australia. The process was introduced gradually from teacher education programs to new graduates who were labelled the ‘new scheme teachers’.

The first generation of these new scheme teachers are now into their twelfth year of teaching. In the interim, the NSW policy has been augmented by the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in concert with a nationally audited accreditation process for teacher education.

The progressive introduction of the standards in NSW from initial teacher education programs out into the profession has meant that teacher education courses have been a testing ground for their implementation. In schools and faculties of education, the often small group of teacher educators were given the task of integrating the standards into course and program outlines. At the same time, their colleagues in critical policy research in education were typically engaging in robust debates about the overall purpose of the standards. Despite these debates, the standards had to be implemented as a condition of accreditation for providers of initial teacher education in Australia.

The biggest initial impact of the standards was on the high stakes performance assessment required in professional experience for student teachers. This is where a large group of supervising teachers, untrained in the use of the standards, had to apply the new graduate teaching standards as criteria for assessing teacher education students on professional experience. Understandably, it was difficult for the providers of initial teacher education to achieve consistency in judgment across so many assessors and with unfamiliar assessment criteria.

Criticism of standards

There has not been a lot of research on the impact of having standards for teachers in Australia. Even the definition is not clear, in that we have gone from talking about standards for teaching to talking about teacher standards. (At the same time we seem to have shifted from talking about teaching quality to teacher quality in the past decade.) It is interesting to note that NSW introduced professional standards for teaching in 2005 whilst at the federal level, more recently, they were named the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

This might be interpreted as a mere semantic shift from teaching to teachers but there is a view in critical policy research that this signals a significant shift in focus from the collective to the individual. The implication of this redefinition is that it will be easier for authorities to hold individual teachers to account for their performance, thus positioning the standards as a way to regulate and check on teachers rather than a way to help them develop their professional skills.

If you want more detail of the arguments against the teaching standards offered by critical policy researchers please go to our full paper (find the link at the end of this post).

Standards as a common language

The promotion of the teaching standards as a common language to describe teaching as a profession is so commonly heard that it now could be regarded as a meme. The meme was evident in the findings of our study (more about this below).

What we did in our study

Our study examined the application of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers to the assessment of professional experience in teacher education at a point more than ten years on from their first implementation in NSW. We gathered empirical data via a survey of 229 secondary teacher education students from a program based in Sydney, NSW. We followed the survey with focus groups in an endeavour to record the students’ perceptions on the use of the standards as assessment criteria for professional experience.

We focused on the application of the graduate level of the standards to the assessment of the students’ professional experience. Within this focus we acknowledge the benefit of the standards acting as a common language for teaching, their supporting role in the formative assessment of teacher education students and the variable quality of their application as assessment criteria by supervising teachers.

Our findings

Standards as a common language

The meme was evident in our study in an interview response of one of our teacher education students:

It also does give me a language to discuss those things with colleagues. It gives me a language that I can easily call on if I want to discuss any of those things, maybe I just think are intuitive or obvious, but I can still speak those things with colleagues with a language we share.

Some teachers were not au fait with the standards

Members of the focus group which took part in this study specifically identified three “groups” existing among teachers, namely the “resistors and cynics”, “middle ground”, and “converts and advocates” of the Standards. As described by one teacher education student:

I feel like there are a few levels of the use of the Standards. There is the sort of lip service, “I have been teaching for a really long time, I am not really interested in looking at them”, level. There is thelevel of teachers who are slightly versed with them but not completely and so they touch on them maybe and will have a brief conversation perhaps with you about them and be able to refer to the Standards in general but maybe not specifically. And then there are teachers -in my experience, these are the sort othree groups of conversations I have – and then there are teachers and students also, colleagues of ours, who maybe are in any of these groups. It do not think it is necessarily age -related although generally the older, more long-teaching people are probably less, at this point, anyway, until they have to be accredited, generally less familiar with them in specifics. The third one is that group that really embrace them and really use them as a tool, because it is a really useful tool.

It was evident from some of our interview responses that the teacher education students often had to guide their Supervising Teacher in their understanding and application of the standards. This is exemplified by the following quote:

I asked my Supervising Teacher to give me a report midway through so that I could work on his feedback in the last two weeks. From this a number of the standards were unknown to him and we had to look up the meanings at the back of the prac’ book.

Where a Supervising Teacher did not relate feedback to the Standards, individual TES would implement a strategy to compensate for this:

I’ve basically started to highlight individual standards and attaching them to the lesson plan so that my Supervising Teacher specifically focuses on those standards in that lesson which made him provide a little more useful feedback.’

Although the Standards perhaps have not been internalized as a common language or are consciously understood by all teachers, none-the-less many teacher education students were of the firm opinion that the majority of teachers are highly proficient and innately capable of meeting all the Standard Descriptors.

Feedback and self relection

Another of our findings related to the standards being used effectively for formative or ongoing assessment during professional experience. This theme is evident in the following response from another teacher education student:

I did relate [the feedback given] back to the Standards mainly because my teacher did use the form, and the form is related to the Standards, and I really like that. I really found it very useful. I find the Standards useful … [because] I am able to use them as a structure for reflection … no matter how much I think I am doing it, or intuitively I am doing it anyway, I still find it reassuring to be able to check myself against it.

We feel that the proactive approach on the part of the teacher education students in our study is great preparation for the ongoing accreditation now required from teachers across their career span from graduate to lead teacher. In this respect, we are heartened by the response of another student who acknowledged that “it has been my own personal reflections that led to my progress.” As well, it seemed that the standards supported the development of the teacher education student in the absence of focused mentoring from the Supervising Teacher. This is an encouraging finding for teacher educators in this interim period where not all supervising teachers are conversant with the standards

The findings presented in our paper confirm some of the arguments presented in favour of the standards by their promoters. These are the worth of the standards as a common language, their role as an explicit framework for teaching and their value in promoting self-assessment, reflection on practice and professional conversations. The findings also lend weight to the argument that the application of the standards to the practice and assessment of professional experience is variable in quality, given that not every supervising teacher on professional experience will have the necessary skills and understanding of the standards to provide constructive feedback to our students.

 

loughland

 

Tony Loughland is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW. Tony is currently working on the validation of a teacher observation instrument based upon the construct of teacher adaptive practices.

 

 

n-ellis-2

 

Dr Neville John Ellis is a Lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW. His teaching and research interests are in teacher professional learning, classroom-based research, and comparative studies in education.

 

 

Full text of our paper

Loughland, T., & Ellis, N. (2016). A Common Language? The Use of Teaching Standards in the Assessment of Professional Experience: Teacher Education Students’ Perceptions. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(7), 4.