New Teachers Feel Alone

An article in this morning’s Auckland Herald highlights the growing tension around issues of professional development for teachers in our schools. The ERO report referred to in this article found that almost half of beginner secondary teachers, and a third of novice primary teachers, do not reach the required level of classroom competence. Many were offered only temporary jobs, which left them and the school lacking the motivation to invest time and effort in professional development. The biggest problems were difficulties in catering for diverse students with different backgrounds and different cultures.

My prediction is that we’ll soon face another round of “bashing” of teacher training providers, with calls for the establishment or raising of ‘standards’, and an increasing emphasis on the ‘basics’ (whatever they may be identified as!)

While there is undoubtedly room for a rigorous look at what happens in our teacher training organisations, and some level of analysis of how effectively they prepare young teachers for the workforce, there is a bigger issue here relating to the culture of professional development that exists within our schools, and the way this is supported at a regional and national level.

Denis Rose, acolleague of mine from several years ago when we worked together in teacher training, completed his PhD by exploring the factors and influences that combined to prepare teachers for their role in schools by tracking a cohort of pre-service students through their training and into their first years of teaching. His research supported one of the findings that emerged from the literature review at the time – “regardles of the perceived quality of pre-service experience, if the teacher was not immersed in a culture of ongoing professional development once they began teaching in schools, within 3-5 years they would revert to teaching in ways that they remember being taught”.

The importance of a professional learning environment has been identified recently by Howard Fancy in a feature in the Education Gazette:

    Developing a positive, collaborative working environment shouldn’t be underestimated. It is the feeling that you can get when you walk into a staffroom or school, from the sense of professional challenge and excitement of teachers who are working together seeing as a result of their work the real differences that are being made by their students

In the same issue of the Education Gazette, several leading educationalists were asked to share their thoughts on what makes a quality teacher . Qualities identified in the responses include ‘relationships with students, ‘reflective practice’, ‘subject knowledge’, ‘personal conviction’, ‘passionate about teaching and their subject’ etc.

Such qualities develop as the result of ongoing professional development that builds on the foundations laid in pre-service training. If we to be truly concerned about the quality of teachers and teaching that exists in our schools, then we must redouble our efforts to provide high quality professional development opportunities for teachers – and these opportunities should be primarily focused on developing and sustaining the professional learning culture of schools and the profession itself.

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