I have spent some time this term with Primary Masters of Teaching students who are undertaking their professional experience placements for Semester 1.
This has provided the excuse to explore some of the issues of student teacher professional experience, and how the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2018) can inform this experience.
I was provided with an excellent reading as part of mentor preparation. Developing fundamental principles for teacher education programs and practices (Korthagen, Loughran, & Russell 2006) provides some clearly defined principles for teacher education.
The article describes an overview of the shift in teacher education that occurred in the 1990s when teacher education became a topic for both political and social discourse, and more importantly, was increasingly acknowledged as a subject of academic research.
Three reasons are given for this shift. The ‘theory-into-practice’ model that had disjointed or fragmented theoretical teacher education which often appeared largely unrelated to the daily realities of the classroom. The second was the reality shock that hits newly graduated teachers as they confront the countless challenges of daily classroom practice; this can have the effect of a perceived need to default to traditional ways of teaching, and to disavow their university training. The third was that much research into learning in the late 20th Century had resulted in new understandings of knowledge, how it is conceptualised, and the implications of this for teaching and learning. (Korthagen, Loughran & Russell 2006 p. 1021)
Four weeks on prac
For students undertaking professional experience, this time is for learning about and developing personal pedagogical practices, guided by teacher educators in their own practice, one of the key principles identified by Korthagen, Loughran & Russell (2006).
It’s learning about:
- students K-6 and the amazing, challenging and insightful things they are capable of, at all ages – focusing on the learner
- taking risks amid the competing demands of teaching, with sound theoretical bases, and being equally prepared for things not going well, as for being prepared for success
- the behaviours and professional practices of experienced teacher educators
- what learning is, for one’s own teaching self, and in the students
- starting to know the steps of student progress through syllabus outcomes for application in the classroom.
Some years ago, I began upgrading my qualifications at Canberra University. One course requirement was a micro-teaching unit. I’d had seven or eight years of what I confidently thought was successful experience, so I knew this would be easy: I knew how to do this.
I’d had the disjointed theory-into-practice model of teacher training, but knew that I had put it all together. My attitude was a combination of that of one teacher at a PD session who said she had been teaching for three years and knew exactly what she was doing and didn’t need any of this new stuff thanks, or another who’d been teaching for 30 years and had learned everything he needed to know at Teachers College thirty years before, thank you very much. I also was arrogant and blinkered.
There were two major components of the unit that I remember. The first was in the micro-teaching unit – taking a group of my co-students through a lesson which was videoed, then analysed by the group. This process is not dissimilar to the excellent Reading Recovery Teacher training component of ‘teaching behind the screen’. The second part was the analysis of teaching data in my Year 6 classroom, to consider all elements of classroom practice, informed by our readings and discussions.
My initial teacher training in Hobart had provided a pretty solid grounding in classroom communication, role including non-verbal communication, effective use of the blackboard, handwriting and even speech development.
This UC unit developed into what seemed to be an ever-expanding list of things that I hadn’t realised I needed to be aware of – where I stood while questioning, which students I asked and which I ignored, the types of questions I asked, my tone of voice, speaking pace, volume, how I made eye contact, who I looked at and who I ignored, where and how I moved around the room, effectiveness of non-verbals, what I was wearing, and so on. I got my class of Year 6 students involved to track my movements, my questions and responses, and even to comment on my clothes. I’d like to think this assisted their mathematical thinking as their introduction to the collection of data.
The findings were illuminating. I effectively ignored the back left-hand quarter of any room I worked in, and about 20% of students were not on my Q & A radar.
I put these findings into diagrams and tables and charts, and, with my reflections and student comments, submitted for the course. I don’t recall the mark I received, because that wasn’t as important as the effect this process had on my teaching.
I became almost unable to function. I had already developed skills, practices and understandings about the classroom; but suddenly I became too acutely aware of this self in the classroom, and the effects of my behaviours. I had to analyse and re-assess my entire classroom practice.
I reassessed, regrouped and re-started my teaching practice. The process stimulated an ongoing interest in the daily interactions in classrooms.
Back in 1973, some time before my adventure with micro-teaching, the issue of how to measure a ‘good’ teacher was under investigation by educators and sociologists.
Having no evidence on what sort of people make good teachers, and little on what sort of teaching is good teaching, each must rely on his own opinions.
Morrison & McIntyre 1973 p.55
‘Opinions’ have become more informed since then.
The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2014) provide educators with the descriptions and exemplars of effective teacher behaviour. The NSW Education Standards Authority publication of these standards describes their purpose:
Good teachers provide students with rich, interesting and well-structured learning experiences. … The capacity to provide experiences for students requires a foundation of knowledge, skills and capacities built in the early years of teaching. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers describe the knowledge, skills and understanding expected of competent and effective teachers.
NESA, 2018 p.1
That is, a list of attributes and observable behaviours which can guide supervising teachers, and contribute to a clear perception as to areas of focus for mentors.
Many of those classroom behaviours I had to reassess are now incorporated into the Domain of Professional Practice, and are coolly encapsulated into Standard 3: Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning. At Graduate level, which is where these M.Ed. students are working, the focus ‘Use effective classroom communication’ is described:
3.5.1: Demonstrate a range of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to support student engagement.
NESA, 2018 p.13
For clarification, the Glossary provided by AITSL states:
Non-verbal communication: The use of unspoken cues generated by both the teacher and their environment that have potential message value to students. This could include but is not limited to eye contact, gestures, proximity and visual aids.
However you read it, this does not have the power, authority and often excruciating experience of dissecting your practice with your unit classmates, or of your own students analysing your classroom behaviours and reporting on them, with all the wisdom and sensitivity of children who have survived seven years of schooling and have so much more to endure.
The classroom and its issues
The prac students I have visited are at different types of schools. Each has commented that there is a wide range of demonstrated skills and engagement in learning in the classroom. Each is learning about managing the ‘continuously conflicting and competing demands’ (Korthagen, Loughran. & Russell 2006) of working in the classroom.
Teaching is a demanding career. It always has been.
The opportunity to support future colleagues as they further their experience, knowledge and understanding is rewarding. It provides opportunity to build resilience in preparation for that reality shock for newly graduated teachers and classroom challenges.
Our future colleagues must remain open to, and apply, the ongoing new understandings of knowledge and how it is conceptualised.
The structures and relationships we can establish will help build confidence in these teaching students and their professional experience.
The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers assist us in guiding teachers at all levels of experience. These are ably supplemented by Dr Jenny Gore at University of Newcastle and her work on quality teaching. See https://www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation/centre/teachers-and-teaching/recent-grants/quality-teaching-rounds
An important issue in all this is teacher attrition – a concern for us all.
For further reading see: Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) (2016) What do we know about early career teacher attrition rates in Australia? ‘Spotlight’ at https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/research-evidence/spotlight/spotlight—attrition.pdf?sfvrsn=40d1ed3c_0 accessed 16/05/2019
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) (2014) Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
Korthagen, F., Loughran, J. & Russell, T. (2006) Developing fundamental principles for teacher education programs and practices in ‘Teaching and Teacher Education’ 22 (2006) pp.1020–1041
Morrison, A. & McIntyre, D. (1973) Teachers and Teaching 2nd Edition, Penguin Education: GB