Pathways to where? Teachers in community languages schools

Year: 2018

Author: Cruickshank, Ken, Brownlee, Patrick

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Community-run out-of-hours community languages schools have been operating in Australia for over 170 years. At present over 100,000 students across Australia are learning one of 65 languages in these classes taught by volunteer teachers. There has been a burgeoning of research into these schools internationally in the past two decades but the focus has generally been on students: their construction of identities and their practices in using their language/s. There has been little research into the role of these schools and the volunteer teachers who work in them.
The majority of these teachers are women, migrants who have been in Australia for over ten years and returning to work or further study often after raising families. Over 60 per cent have tertiary qualifications from overseas and around 40 per cent have teaching qualifications and experience. Another 20 per cent had little previous access to education in their countries of origin. The overwhelming majority of the teachers want to gain access to careers in education, teaching in mainstream schools, early childhood or related fields. Their pathways are block with only 4 per cent managing to regain entry to the teaching profession.
This paper addresses the issues confronting this group of internationally-educated teachers. The research questions addressed are ‘What are the professional learning strengths and needs of community languages teachers? What are the barriers and pathways for them to gain entry to further education and employment?’ The paper draws on two recent studies of the 2,700 volunteer teachers. The first study explored teachers’ professional learning strengths and needs through an online survey (n=854) and semi-formal interviews (n=53). The second study investigated community language school teachers’ and principals’ teaching practices and competencies, approaches to teaching and perceived issues in their teaching. It analyses data from an online survey (n=489) and face to face interviews.
The key finding was the key role the schools play in developing teachers’ professional identities. Some 30 per cent of volunteers who had trained in other fields now wanted to become teachers in Australia. The second was the need for alternate pathways for teachers to gain information, support in gaining accreditation and where needed upgrading for Australian recognition. The implications of ignoring the resource of these teachers in terms of mainstream education are explored.