This UK report looks at the true cost of teacher training, taking into account the costs to government and the retention rate of the teacher trainees to work out the true cost per teacher who is still teaching after 5 years.
Since New Zealand also has issues with teacher recruitment and retention, with shortages on some areas and a glut of teachers in others, and since we too have Teach First as a route into teaching, it would be interesting to know how this compares to New Zealand.
Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Last week, out of nowhere, government added a proposal to the Education Act update that would allow Teach First teacher trainees to be in the classroom unsupervised.
Yes, that’s right – a trainee with no qualifications in teaching would be allowed to be in charge of the whole class unsupervised.
You have to wonder why that would be proposed? What’s the justification?
Before getting to the education issues, I first have to ask, how is it acceptable to add in such an important change to the proposed Education Act amendments without informing people so we have a chance to submit? That’s not democracy; it’s underhand, disingenuous and it’s railroading.
You have to wonder what the process was that led to it being put in at the very last minute, too. The cynic in me can’t help but wonder whether it was purposefully held back just long enough to leave no time for people to put up submissions about the plan. If that’s not the reason, then why the last-minute appearance? Something’s fishy, and this time it’s not MPI’s catch quotas.
As with any proposals, we should ask who this proposal benefits and who it impacts.
We have a glut of well-trained, qualified primary trained teachers as it is, so where’s the need to lower the bar this way? What’s the imperative to have trainees in front of classrooms with no supervision?
I’d love to hear how unsupervised time in the classroom is better for the trainee than supervised training and co-teaching, where a teacher with years of experience observes and gives feedback and where the student can see the teacher at work and reflect on what works well and why.
Good self reflection on one’s pedagogical practice is something that develops over time, guided initially by mentors and becoming deeper and more meaningful as you grow as a teacher. It’s not something you can just do. After all, to begin with, you don’t know what you don’t know.
So how is being unsupervised/unmentored /unsupported a good move?
Teach First often cites that its trainee teachers have high degrees or Masters qualifications. But being a good teacher isn’t just about knowing your subject, and even more so at primary level where your subject will be only a tiny part of what you teach anyway.
Just as important as book smarts is knowing how to engage students, how to create a productive environment, how to plan effectively, how to adapt planning on the fly when you have to, how to deal with upsets, what to do to support those who struggle or who find a task easy, how to spot those who are not pushing themselves and what to do to help them, how to deal with parents’ concerns, what to do about the wriggler or the weeper or the kind that has a tendency to disrupt things. How to teach kids to analyse their own work and improve it, what to do about the kids who never push themselves and the ones who are too hard on themselves. How to help the kid that has started stealing things. How to stay calm and deal with vomit, wees and a’code brown’so that the child involved isn’t stigmatised. What to do when a lunch box is empty or insufficient. Or when a child is taking other kids’ food. How to stick to timings, how to teach students to care for their environment and pack up the classroom equipment properly and efficiently. How to encourage and support reluctant readers. And what to do when the fire alarm goes or when a kid suddenly runs out of your classroom and keeps running.
While you’re learning those things, you need a mentor on hand.
Most pertinently, it is important to ask how this impact students.
Government keeps telling us that to give students the best change of success teachers must be excellently trained. How is this excellence?
I’ve seen some good and great initial teacher trainees but also some absolute shockers, including ones with lots of classroom experience, so it concerns me that this proposal allows not just seasoned trainees but also brand new trainees to go into classrooms unsupervised. How someone with no teaching experience or training (practical or theoretical) can be expected to do a good job of teaching without guidance is mind-boggling.
As a teacher it concerns me: As a parent I am fuming.
My child is not a guinea pig. My child deserves a qualified teacher. And so does yours.
NZ and England have Teach First. The USA has Teach For America (TFA). There are Teach For All schemes worldwide. So are the schemes any good for the trainees and, more importantly, for the students they teach?
A little background: The schemes give recruits little to no training and then put them into schools to teach. The recruits are mentored in the job and agree to stay for 2 years. They are usually put into low income area schools and they are there, according to TFA literature, to address inequality and improve the lot of poorer students.
There is a mountain of literature out there from Teach For All explaining why they believe the scheme to be a good thing. But since many are opposed to TFA, I want to consider instead, the arguments against the programmes.
There is an argument that the scheme is there only to feed cheap labour into schools. The low starting wages due to the teachers being unqualified during their 2 year initial training allows schools to reduce their costs by employing teaching staff at unqualified teacher pay scales. As a result, the scheme makes the untrained more financially attractive compared with the more expensive but trained teacher. This can be particularly attractive to schools that are run as businesses, such as charter schools.
Another issue that has been raised in the high turnover of trainees, with a much lower proportion staying in the profession than those who are trained via a traditional university course and school placements. For the Teach First proponents the high turnover is not an issue, since the scheme actively promotes itself as a stepping stone for graduates into other fields rather than a way to enter a life-long job in teaching, and gaining long-term experience and a deeper knowledge of pedagogy does not seem to be a focus. However, the high turnover and low retention of these trainees means students in the target schools (poorer districts) are more likely to have a succession of new and untrained teachers.
Former TFA recruit, Chad Sommer, highlights the issue of job security:
“A fellow TFA corps member in Chicago who worked at a charter school told me that she met with her principal each Friday to find out if she should bother coming back to work the following Monday. Another told me that his principal explicitly told him that she knew he would only be with her school for two years, so she was going to work him to death. And when he left after his TFA commitment, she would just replace him with a new TFA recruit. Churn and burn is the business model for these schools, and TFA provides a continuous supply of naively idealistic workers who have no choice but to accept their lot…
By driving down teacher salaries and weakening workplace protections, TFA has a corrosive effect on the teaching profession. But behind TFA’s role as a feeder system for charter schools is a hypocrisy that’s especially galling. Source.
Chad Sommer goes on to say:
Considering the domineering corporate influence on TFA, I would suggest that TFA has become an inverted labor union. Traditional labor unions work to promote the interests of the working people who comprise them by collectively bargaining for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. Through its partnerships with charter schools and its mandate that corps members take the first job they’re offered, TFA is lowering wages, reducing benefits and worsening the working conditions of teachers. It is increasingly clear that the mission of the corporate class is to destroy teachers unions and remake the teaching profession into a temporary, low paying job. Source.
Not all students are happy with untrained teachers and the high turnover, and some find it patronising that poorer and mainly non-white students are deemed to need ‘rescuing’ by predominantly white, middle and upper class graduates.
That’s not to say the recruits’ intentions are not well meant, but Rachael Smith puts it very eloquently here where she condemns those that come into “the ghetto” as would-be saviours of the poor yet are “only seen for two years because we are a stepping stone.”
Interestingly, it has been incredibly tricky to find out what the students themselves think. Thier voices, online at least, are drowned out by the adult voices for and against the scheme, and maybe that in itself is rather worrying.
If you are a student who has had a TFA teacher, I would love to hear from you (both positive and negative experiences).
What do traditionally trained teachers think?
Kate Osgood caused quite a stir when she wrote her open letter to TFA recruits and followed up with further questions on the effectiveness (and motives) of TFA, noting that
“Teach for America is not about creating and supplying the teachers my students need. When an organization spends more on recruitment, PR, and lobbying than it does on training recruits, you know that the kids are not the focus.”
She concludes that:
“My students need so much more than what Teach for America can provide. The injustice of placing poorly-trained, uncertified novices in our neediest classrooms is frankly, unacceptable. “
This blogger explains why he feels TFA is the wrong route to teaching, saying he is “not here to destroy or take down TFA. I simply do not support their approach.” He believes that in ignoring the root of the issues – namely poverty – TFA and the like are just papering over the cracks and allowing the status quo to continue.
What do the TF/TFA recruits themselves think?
Some former TFA recruits have struggled with their place in the scheme of things. One notes:
“The educational and cultural imperialism that my fellow Corps Members and I were perpetrating was not lost on me nor on many of my peers. It was an inconvenient truth that we talked about over drinks and dinner when we returned to our neighborhoods at night. We maintained a belief, however, that despite our temporary teacher status and (in my case) my permanent Northern whiteness, the good that we did for our students outweighed the harm.” Source.
Another recruit, who left the scheme, says:
“I sat through a workshop at a TFA Professional Development Saturday last November designed to help solve management issues, and I was stunned by the sense of despair that permeated the room. In a group of perhaps twenty corps members, everyone was on the verge of giving up. And everyone gave the same reasons: “I stand there, and I talk, and then I yell, and then I beg, and then I threaten, and still no one has heard a word I’ve said. It’s like I’m invisible. I might as well not be there.” Source
The first batch of Kiwi TF recruits is still going through the training, and so there is no post-experience reflection out there yet, but it will be interesting to follow developments over the coming years and see whether the scheme fares any better here, on reflection, than it has elsewhere.
I would love to hear from anyone who has been through TFA in any country, so that I can better understand the pros and cons of this scheme.
As it stands, I don’t see that it’s a valid way to improve the education system and lift it to a higher, better-trained status with very knowledgeable and dedicated staff. Quite the opposite, in fact.
It’s a bit of a worry when the man who created the PISA rankings comes to visit NZ, meets with Hekia Parata, and starts waxing lyrical about how National Standards are going to do great things for our education system, but that’s just what Andreas Schleicher did.
It’s especially odd when, in the same breath, he is lauding our amazing school autonomy, our ingenuity, our innovation.
This is my article from The Daily Blog, pondering his strangely schizophrenic standpoint…
I have been left confused by a recent article by Andreas Schleicher.
In it he begins by singing the praises of ”New Zealand’s liberal and entrepreneurial school system.” He speaks very highly of the benefits of school autonomy, reflecting that “It would be hard to imagine [principals doing the same] in one of Southern Europe’s bureaucratic school systems” and ends with triumphant praise of the Kiwi schools that “have moved on from delivered wisdom, to user-generated wisdom, from a culture of standardization, conformity and compliance towards being innovative and ingenious”
Wow, I thought. He gets it.
He understands that autonomy beats bureaucracy, that creativity beats standardisation, and that Kiwi schools are doing a good job.
Then I remembered, this is the same man who, in a visit to NZ recently, sang the praises of National Standards, and alarm bells started tinkling far away in the back of my mind, but I read on…
Schleicher says there were Kiwi principals complaining to him that they have difficulties attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers, yet he doesn’t address this at all. Surely that’s a hugely important issue if we are to improve our system further?
Just ponder what school leavers and graduates might be thinking if they consider teaching as a career: Why join a profession that is being battered world wide? Why take a job that is used as a political football? Why pay for training when some are being paid to jump into the classroom with little or no training?
Because, really, if teachers can now go into schools after just 6 weeks’ training over the summer holidays while schools are shut or, in the case of charter schools, go into the classroom with no training at all, surely that will put a fair few off paying fees and taking years to get a teaching degree?
Are we slowly but surely giving up on the idea of trained teachers? And if so, how does that help raise the bar? Just how does it help principals’ concerns over attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers? Maybe that’s why he glossed over the issue – it’s easier for him to ignore it than address it?
But I would love to know what the principals think.
There is no discussion, either, of why teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Maybe it’s easier to gloss over serious issues like that? But you would think, wouldn’t you, that it might be worth a few lines?
No, because all Schleicher is really interested in, is promoting National Standards….
– Read the rest of the article at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/07/28/education-do-we-want-ingenuity-and-freedom-or-standardisation-and-control/#sthash.1GLLWKv1.dpuf
If you want to know what he thinks of National Standards, click the link and read the rest (and the comments below the article, too).
I’m still baffled by his strangely incoherent views, to be honest, and would welcome any feedback on his original article and my response to it.
Poet Rachel Smith, 18, is a senior and a member of Epic Sound, the Kenwood Academy Slam Poetry Team. This is her second year participating in Louder Than a Bomb.
Hallelujah the Saviors are Here is a condemnation of teachers who come to “the inner city” without becoming a true member of the community.
You can hear it here, performed by Rachel, herself.
And for more on ‘saviour teachers’ in the USA, read here: Why Teach For America can’t recruit in my classroom.
Or if you would like something more local, this is the Kiwi version, teachers trained in 6 weeks and then sent into schools in poorer areas: Teach First NZ
Are they better for the recruit than for the students?
Or are they a good idea?
A new teacher training programme has been developed by Teach First and The University of Auckland that will see graduates undertake a six-week course over the summer holidays and then placed in schools to do the rest of their training in-the-job.
Those chosen for the scheme are being touted as the creme-de-la-creme graduates who received top honours, and the goal is to get them trained and ready and out teaching as soon as possible.
But even that is being questioned: “The PPTA has found the current proposal is in breach of both the State Sector Act and the Education Act; there is no evidence that entrants to the Teach First Course will be “brighter” than entrants to more conventional New Zealand pre-service secondary courses” PPTA Source
Now, I am not opposed to fast tracking per se. If this or any other course is based on sound ideas and proves to work, then great.
But I do have some questions…
THINGS TO CONSIDER
So many questions.
CLASS CONTACT TIME
I found the following quotes interesting to compare:
“A year-long course has a lot of non-contact time, when trainees are out in schools.”
University of Auckland’s dean of education, Graeme Aitken. Source
“Trainee teachers in proper teacher education spend large blocks of practicum time in classes where they gain invaluable teaching experience. These fast track programmes won’t even touch the sides, particularly as they’ll be held over summer when there are no children in schools to teach.”
NZEI President Ian Leckie. Source
I know what Mr Aiken means, and I’m not being facetious, but surely the contact time in schools matters hugely? Surely being able to train in the field then go back are read more theory/discuss with peers, then go back into the field and evolve your learning and your skills is a good model. And that’s the very bit that’s being cut out here.
As one commentator said “Learning the theory is all very well but until you’ve stood in front of a class and had to manage 30 different sets of behaviour you have no idea how you will cope. For that shock to come when the school, and its students, are stuck with you for two years is dreadful.”
The argument is that the scheme is being used to attract people into those subjects with largest shortages. But many factors feed into that shortage – poor work conditions, stress, and low wages being key. These are in no way addressed by the scheme and so fast-tracked teachers will most likely drop out at roughly the same rate as other teaching graduates.
It’s questionable whether fast-tracking is actually effective in keeping teachers into the classroom. “Almost half the first participants in a similar scheme in Australia are no longer teaching after two years.” “This high dropout rate mirrors that of programmes with the same features in the United States” NZ Herald 11.6.12 (link below)
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Why do we actually have a shortage of teachers? Will this course train teachers well? Will it serve the students of those trainees well?
Keep your eyes peeled about this one… it might work, it might not, but it’s going to be a very interesting experiment one way or another.