Teaching qualifications and Initial Teacher Education courses in Australia have been a site of Federal Government intervention in recent times, write Dr Brad Gobby and Dr Rebecca Walker, Senior Lecturers from the School of Education at Curtin University.
The High Achieving Teachers Program (HATP) is the Federal Government’s latest intervention into Teacher Education. Recently put out to tender, the HATP program addresses teaching workforce shortages, particularly in science and mathematics education and ICT, where there are high incidences of secondary teachers teaching ‘out-of-field’ in schools. HATP is a fast-tracked employment-based pathway into teaching, with many to be placed in schools rated below the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage national median.
The program is a spin-off of the Commonwealth Government-supported Teach for Australia (TFA) program, which has been funded to the tune of $70 million. These types of programs can be traced to the United States and the Teach for America program, which places unqualified and minimally qualified teachers into classrooms. The benefits of such programs are inconclusive at best, and troublesome at least. Teachers in such fast-track programs in the United States are often unprepared, unsupported and have a low retention rate. According to respected Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, uncertified teachers are also less effective than certified teachers. Of course, this is to be expected when you place people with nominal pedagogical and curriculum knowledge and experience in a classroom of 30 students from diverse backgrounds and with varied needs. We know very little about the effectiveness of such teachers in Australia and about their impact on those people we hear least from but do the most in schools – the students.
What is especially troublesome about the HATP program is that, unlike TFA, HATP candidates will not need a university degree to teach. It is open to anyone with “professional or academic experience gained outside of teaching”.
While school students might benefit from being taught by teachers with recent industry experience or specialist STEM related qualifications, we need caution about the effect of this apprenticeship model of learning to teach.
Of great concern is that programs like HATP encourage a technical view of teaching, where teaching is reduced to a method or universal set of strategies for delivering a prescribed curriculum. In this view, teachers do not need to situate their practice in its substantive cultural, historical or intellectual context, nor engage with systemic issues around education, like poverty and funding. Teaching is apparently simpler than that, and any ‘Joe’ can pick up the trade from observing ‘masters’. Imagine expecting dentists to learn on the job without extensive study of their field.
This impoverished view of teaching feeds into the poor perceptions many have of the teaching profession – that anyone can teach in any context with the right grab-bag of tools. But teaching is complex and demanding and one cannot and should not simply replicate the form of teaching they experienced as a learner, which many novices are prone to do.
Our book Powers of Curriculum: Sociological Perspectives on Education (Oxford University Press), makes this case. It argues that teachers must learn to navigate the social, cultural and discursive complexities of the educational domain and their relationships with students and communities. To do this, teachers need to be equipped with a broad range of educational knowledge and practical wisdom drawn from studying foundational and contemporary philosophers, theorists and researchers of education. One wonders the extent to which the pressures of learning on the job under the guidance of already-pressured teachers affords HATP candidates the opportunity to become intellectual workers capable of reflecting on and disrupting their practice and the implicit theories that drive them.
In effect, pernicious programs like TFA and HATP undermine and cast suspicion over the quality of the nation’s teacher education courses and the teaching profession.
Indeed, at a time when governments need to better resource public schools, teacher education courses and raise the status of teaching as a profession, they have instead chosen to fund this band-aid solution which erodes the status of teachers by undervaluing their qualifications and professional knowledge. This reminds us of Linda Darling-Hammond’s observation of effective teaching and the professional knowledge that underpins it, “Ensuring student success requires a new kind of teaching, conducted by teachers who understand learning and pedagogy, who can respond to the needs of their students and the demands of their disciplines, and who can develop strong connections between students’ experiences and the goals of the curriculum.” We might reasonably ask how this can occur when HATP candidates are teaching first?