Non-Indigenous preservice teacher engagement with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school community: where ‘open minds’ and ‘ignorance’s’ meet?

Year: 2019

Author: Salter, Peta, Lenoy, Max

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Evolving discourses in Australia have resulted in an increasing focus on teachers’ abilities to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Political concerns with achievement gaps and national education policy that requires teachers to engage with curriculum priorities and Australian professional standards for teaching that focus on strategies for teaching and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, such as 1.4 and 2.4, have contributed to this move.

This paper reports on a study that facilitated and supported preservice teachers to undertake specialised teaching placements in a partner school that identified higher than average numbers of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander student enrolments and strong links to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities. These placements were offered in response to preservice teachers’ opinions that although they felt engaged in and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges to promote cultural sustainability throughout their degree, they were anxious about their application in real world contexts. This study sought to take up this call to support and engage preservice teachers directly with such placements. It follows two cohorts of six preservice teachers through a pilot program which integrated the ATSIL 3Rs approach to engage and orientate preservice teachers with their mentor teachers and the school prior to placement, and adapted the Most Significant Change Technique to identify domains of change in agency for the two focus professional standards in reflections both pre and post placement.

This paper presents a critical race reading of preservice teachers’ reflections on being part of these placements. It applies a lens of whiteness and interest convergence to interrogate how experiences and significant points of change in preservice teacher agency for standards 1.4 and 2.4 are interpreted as empowering in broadening understanding, albeit through racialised discourses. As teacher educators we sought to offer the placement as a ‘circuit breaker’ to disrupt preservice teacher dispositions, however our findings have caused us to revisit our understanding of preservice teacher ‘circuits’ and what perceived faults may flow through them. These findings highlight the complexity of challenging pre-existing social practices and the development of critical dispositions in preservice teachers.