Time to Take Better Care of Our New Teachers

My school recently employed a teacher straight out of University.  He will commence teaching his first ever class in February.  As I moved out of my classroom, so he could move in, I spotted him staring at the room in adulation.  I asked him what was going through his mind, to which he replied, “This is it.  This is my classroom!”

I know how he feels.  Whilst I was going through the rigours of teaching training, I would drive past schools along the way and be filled with envy at the teachers already able to ply their trade.  I so much wanted to skip the rest of my course and move straight it to my first classroom.  People told me I was an idealist and those feelings towards teaching would erode two weeks into my first school year.  It didn’t.  It still hasn’t.

This leads me to a very important issue.  If young teachers like my colleague have such a love for the craft and such a desire to become effective teachers, why is it so hard for them to get jobs?

I was reading an article which illustrates the plight a teacher has to face, to get their first solid job:

LAST year Melbourne Magazine named teacher Michael Stuchbery one of its top 100 Melburnians for using social media to revolutionise the teaching of civics.

His year 8 students at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College, many of whom previously could not name the electorate in which they lived, transformed into political animals, using blogs and Twitter to follow the federal election, and were interviewed on Channel Ten’s The 7pm Project.

But instead of being rewarded for his innovation, Mr Stuchbery, along with thousands of other Victorian teachers on short-term contracts, is out of a job.

January is a fraught month for teachers employed on fixed-term contracts – about 18 per cent of the workforce – who are faced with job interviews and uncertainty about their future.

”A lot of positions are filled in January, which is why contract teachers are nowhere near the beach right now,” Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said.

Annual surveys by the union repeatedly show contract employment is the top reason beginning teachers give for why they do not see themselves teaching in five years.

It took me a year to get my first job.  I had the hunger, the good University grades, I was well read, an excellent communicator – but not what they were looking for.  Each application required extensive responses to a set of about 8 Key selection criteria. It took me a day to respond to each schools criteria (as each school had different selection criteria I couldn’t cut and paste).  Most of those applications didn’t even land me an interview.

Why is this the case?

A number of reasons.

1.  The University training offered is completely and utterly inadequate.  The training is so useless, I can’t recall an important fact or skill I learnt from my training.  Schools know they would be employing a very raw teacher that will require a lot of patience and support.  They are too lazy for such an undertaking.

2. With initiatives like the My School Website which ranks every school against each other on how they perform in the national test, the NAPLAN, schools are careful not to select a teachers they don’t have confidence will show their worth from the outset.  They have their reputation to uphold.

3. Parents tend to be weary when a first-year teacher gets appointed to teach their child, in the same way a patient prefers to see some wrinkles in their surgeon.  Schools like to avoid parent intervention by making safe, low risk choices.

All these factors are completely beyond the prospective new teacher’s control.  They have no say in the strength or weakness of their course, the can’t control Government initiatives like the NAPLAN and My School Website and if a school wants to avoid risk, there is nothing they can do about it.

This reality is a crying shame.  I would have thought that the best, most vibrant staff rooms feature teachers of all ages and experience.  Surely, the horrendous plan to make new teachers “school cloggers” by shipping them off to a under-funded and under-performing rural school is exactly not how to deal with the problem.  The answer is for schools to show some backbone and create a framework where these teachers feel welcome, supported and mentored.

The new teacher that enters their classroom for the first time with a sense of joy and calm.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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One Response to “Time to Take Better Care of Our New Teachers”

  1. Santo Says:

    Sorry to hear that Australia suffers from the same problems that North America has.

    Grading teachers on the performance of their students is fraught with the same unpleasant side-effects as grading students numerically.

    The problems with standardized testing of this sort was discussed long ago by Banesh Hoffmann (The Tyranny of Testing), and more recently by Alfie Kohn (http://www.alfiekohn.org).

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