My first year of teacher education
In 2005, I returned to university to begin a four-year Bachelor of Primary Education degree as a mature-aged student. As part of my first year of study, I have recently undertaken three weeks practicum experience in a suburban Melbourne primary school. Some of my impressions of teaching and the education sector follow.
Despite my career experience in fast-paced business environments in Australia and abroad, I haven't seen a role which requires as much concentrated dedication, organisation, efficiency and skill as teaching. I watch teachers swing adeptly from one task to the next, relating an extensive knowledge of pedagogy, the current curriculum, the school's values and processes to meet the individual learning needs of students. Add to this daily parental liaison, planning, reporting, keeping up to date with teaching and curriculum developments, staff meetings, school musical or extra-curricular groups, recess duties, sports days, representing staff on the parent council or coordinating the fundraising committee to develop policy, resolve issues, chair meetings and write minutes. Every spare minute of the day is filled by completing some task to assist students.
For all of this, it seems to me to be a profession with little financial recompense for the high level of time and energy it demands. I watch teachers gain job satisfaction from their students’ success, and draw energy from their relationships with colleagues. However, opportunities to progress to leadership roles are obviously limited. Some teachers felt that only those willing to sacrifice their focus on teaching students had the time and energy to pursue leadership positions, while those who remained focused on teaching received few opportunities to progress. Teachers seem to teach the same year levels for long stretches, which left some feeling unchallenged. Some of the teachers I encountered, especially the younger ones, felt that they had limited opportunities to move from teaching to other careers. These teachers seemed unaware of the multitude of roles and industries in which their skills would be valued.
The teachers knew their students and were observant of changes. I saw them address a wide range of issues, from children having problems at home, to speech difficulties, to an ear ache. At times they requested specialist services for students. The success of their efforts seemed to depend on their own tenacity, and the school’s capacity to provide assistance. In view of funding constraints, the school had set cut-off points, such as excluding Grade 5 and 6 students from literacy intervention. CRT hours were also cut for a term.
Due to funding constraints and despite the school having many proactive safety measures, some safety issues had to be delayed. For example, a laptop cord was left extending across the floor of a Prep classroom. The school allocated bulk funding for students with certain needs to specialist intervention. However, some felt that the process would allow other schools to easily divert bulk funds away from the students to meet other needs.
Many teachers seemed to feel that whatever they did, they would be criticised. VELS was seen by some of them as an expensive re-invention of CSF II, under which cross-curricular teaching, values education and thinking skills are already taught. Some felt that the VELS lacked definition, but also that their interpretations of the standards would only lead to further criticism. The new report cards were seen as a backward step, on the grounds that they contained less detail than existing reports to which parents were accustomed. They said that parents received a detailed outline of the new report cards, while they themselves were informed only through general announcements.
For me, being in a classroom under the skilful guidance of an experienced teacher confirmed my commitment to the profession. On practicum, I cemented my understanding of the teaching theories and approaches that I have so far been exposed to. I saw how these processes can be adapted to meet the needs of particular students and to fit within the parameters of resources, classrooms and timetables. For example, constructivist learning requires far more planning and carefully staged guidance than I initially realised. To be effective, peer scaffolding requires that students be closely matched in ability to avoid one child losing interest, or sharing all the answers before their partner has a chance to consider the problem.
I have gained more from my university lectures, tutorials and teachers since practicum, and can relate them explicitly to my own professional development. This realisation is far more effective in driving my learning than the university’s role-calls and attendance requirements.
My experience leads me to think that more extensive school-based placement closely integrated with university-based teacher education courses would greatly assist my development as a teacher. Experienced, approved teachers could act as mentors and increase their own professional development, learning and income in the process. I have heard teachers express how student-teachers have assisted their own workloads, helping with assessment and providing students with more one-to-one teaching time. While I realise costs, selection, organisation and balancing of workloads would present significant issues, I feel that increased practicum experience coupled with a sound theoretical knowledge would greatly benefit my future students.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession