A report by the Education Review Office (ERO) has found that many trained teachers are walking into their first job feeling unprepared for its demands.

The Education Council also released a report that recommends strengthening the quality of teacher training programmes offered, and ensuring newly graduated teachers (NGTs) have access to high-quality mentoring.

For Newly Graduated Teachers: Preparation and Confidence to Teach, ERO surveyed 279 recent graduates in early childhood education and 561 recent graduates in schools through an online survey and face-to-face interviews.

The online survey was positive, with more than 80 per cent of NGTs reporting they felt confident in their knowledge of both subject content and teaching methods.

But in the interviews, many respondents reported a disconnect between what they had learned and the practical experience of standing in front of a class of students.

ERO also interviewed principals and head teachers at 118 schools and 109 early learning services. Both these leaders and the NGTs “highlighted classroom and behaviour management as an area that needed more support”.

It also emphasised concerns about the consistency of teacher training across the country.

While Initial Teacher Education (ITE) was confined for many years to colleges in the six university centres, it was deregulated in the 1990s and aspiring teachers can now choose between
25 institutions.

ERO chief review officer Nicholas Pole told the New Zealand Herald that the large number of institutions made teacher training “quite disaggregated’’, but ERO found no agreement on which educational institutions were not performing.

“We asked principals which providers are better, but we didn’t get any consistency,” he said.

Professor and head of school at the University of Canterbury’s School of Teacher Education Letitia Fickel says this inconsistency may reflect the way in which the study was conducted.

“One of the challenges with the report is that we don’t know what kind of sampling method was used,” she says.

“There are multiple providers and great variations in how they go about ITE and what their outcomes are. While there was a good number of new teachers, centre leaders and principals surveyed, there was no real certainty as to whether it was a representative sample from the range of existing providers. To what extent does the report really speak for the whole ITE sector?”

Fickel says the findings come as no surprise, partly because at Canterbury’s School of Teacher Education students are regularly surveyed, as are principals and centre leaders.

“A lot of our knowledge has come from feedback we’ve received from our students and sector colleagues. We’ve been running a graduate survey for many years and so are well aware of the complexities of preparing teachers for a changing education system,” she says.

The way that schools are continually evolving to keep up with a changing society is an important key to the complexities behind the ERO report.

“Over the last 15 years, society has actually asked teachers to work in very different ways than we might have in the past. For example, we have a better understanding that there are young people in our schools who have not been progressing at the kind of levels we would like to see –  we do have gaps in student outcomes. We’ve been asked to make sure these gaps don’t continue
to occur.

“At the same time, we have a growing and diverse population, and our schools need to be far more inclusive and focus on identity, culture and language,” she says.

Fickel highlights work being done at the University of Canterbury to forge stronger links with schools, centres and community partners, such as Ngāi Tahu iwi to better reflect Māori aspirations.

Post-earthquake Christchurch has seen school rebuilds and increased introduction of modern learning environments. The introduction of Communities of Learning has seen teacher trainees learn through collaboration and experience community work in a new way.

“We’ve seen many of our schools being revisioned as flexible, or responsive learning environments. We’ve taken up a blended learning model, and we’re ensuring that our graduates have had practical experience in all these types of different schools.”

A teacher’s role is complex, and one that is always changing.

“It’s now about being part of a team that’s focused on all the young people in the school and teachers also have responsibility to whānau and wider community. In our programme, we’ve addressed this by creating opportunities for our students to meet and interact with whānau through community-engaged learning opportunities.”

“I believe our pre-service teachers take responsibility for making a positive difference in their community.”

The importance of high-quality in-service mentoring is mentioned in both reports, and Fickel says this is critical.

“The reports identified a challenge that many of us have long known – the associate teacher role. This is where an experienced teacher mentors a new one, and it’s sort of an expected part of the profession.

“The goodwill to mentor is definitely there, though it’s become more challenging for teachers to take it on in recent years because of all the changes happening in schools and centres.

“Especially in Christchurch with the rebuilds and other changes, schools are in flux. We do offer professional development to those taking it on. But it’s another thing that needs to be done at the end of the school day.

“To lead the learning of another person requires a special skill set – it’s not necessarily the same skills required to be a classroom teacher.

“I believe we need to better acknowledge and support this role and work out how to better resource it as a professional pathway. And this will require a system approach, as the Education Council has suggested.”

Dr Fiona Ell is head of initial teacher education at the University of Auckland and, like Professor Fickel, she describes teacher education as something that is complex and continually changing.

“In New Zealand and internationally we are all trying to solve two puzzles: how to better prepare teachers for the complexity of the classroom and how to provide teachers who can consistently improve outcomes for learners,” she says.

“Current calls are for ‘more professional experience’ – past solutions have been more qualifications, and in fact the last government commissioned ‘exemplary teacher education programme’ pilots which blended both: a master’s-level qualification with more practice time in schools.

“ERO’s report echoes reports from the 1950s, 1970s and more recent decades as it rediscovers that early career teachers often do not remember what they covered in their programmes, or that when faced with the overwhelming nature of teaching what they know seems inadequate. This is a career-long challenge for teachers.”

Teaching is one of few professions where we expect new graduates to do the whole job from their first day, says Ell.

“New lawyers, architects and engineers are rarely put in charge of an important project as soon as they graduate: they do small tasks as part of a team and responsibility is gradually released to them. Also, they do ‘professionals’ – additional study which their professions expect to have to add to their basic preparation.

“No-one is calling for ‘on the job’ preparation for lawyers or engineers – we know their work is intellectually demanding and we want them to be graduates – and then we expect them to have to learn more about the practicalities of their work.

“The preparation of teachers would be improved by a similar approach. We are always looking to improve our practice, and structural changes such as giving NGTs roles without class responsibility in their first year could make a difference.”

Changes are afoot at the University of Auckland, with a new suite of qualifications set to be delivered in 2019.

“Changes include more intentional use of professional experience in schools to build practice, more emphasis on identity, language and culture as key to connecting with learners and building respect with diverse communities, collaboration with colleagues (for modern learning environments), and digital teaching and learning,” says Ell.

But the changing nature of the education system remains a constant consideration, and teachers must model the lifelong learning they aspire to instill in students.

“If we prepare people to teach for today, their preparation will be of little use later in their careers. We emphasise the development of adaptive expertise – the ability to grow and learn and make professional decisions in a range of contexts. Teaching is essentially a series of high-stakes, complex decisions – each of which needs a lot of knowledge to make.

“Any teacher preparation can only begin a teacher’s professional learning journey, so we need to prepare teachers to be learners throughout their careers – and to expect to have more to learn every year that they teach,” says Ell.

To view the ERO and Education Council reports, go to www.ero.govt.nz/publications and
www.educationcouncil.org.nz/content/future-focused-initial-teacher-education.

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