April 29, 2013

My commentary on the Teach For Australia feature article in The Age

Feature article about Teach For Australia in today's Age newspaper here: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/journey-into-teaching-20130426-2iir0.html.  

The article states that TFA requires more funding for future cohorts, and also outlines some debates on teacher recruitment, profiles a past associate, and discusses who would want to join the program.  
Commenting on the political debate about the rising number of students with low tertiary entry scores enrolling in teacher education courses, Dean Ashenden, an education consultant, former teacher educator and founder of the Good Universities Guide, says no one is willing to do what is needed to make teaching a more attractive employment option. Two reasons why teacher education does so poorly: it cannot attract enough able candidates; and "it does a bad job with the ones it has," he says.
Mr Ashenden argues that a big boost to teacher salaries would attract more able students into the profession. But despite teacher organisations trying for 50 years to achieve this, neither the state nor federal governments have been willing to oblige – including former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, who before he won government promised a marked increase in teachers' wages. The result has been that "teacher salaries, status and entry standards remain as low as ever, perhaps even worse", Mr Ashenden says.
He says the impasse in teacher education is disheartening because teacher educators have at last figured out how to do a good job. Pointing to the maser of teaching degree at Melbourne University and the Teach for Australia graduate diploma of teaching, he notes these concentrate on fixing the key weakness in most teacher training courses: they do not teach people how to teach.
Making teaching more attractive is more complex than just better education skills and higher salaries, but it's a great starting point.
"That first group students were taking a health and human development subject and everything was new to them," Mr Keating says. "There was a range of academic abilities and behavioural challenges but I focused on building relationships from the beginning and we got along really well. We achieved a lot in that first semester and I hope what I taught was useful to them."
He says he faced no serious discipline problems in his first two years at the school. Although some classes were "challenging", he says Mill Park has a firm discipline policy and that the management strategies he learnt at Melbourne proved useful.
Having strong leadership at school makes a HUGE difference to implement consistent policies and promote the school's vision.  There should be just as much focus on having good principals as there is on good teachers, to create a stable and well-run school for the teachers to do our jobs properly!

From its first intake of 45 graduates in 2009, Teach for Australia has attracted would-be pedagogues with an average ENTER score of 95 and an astonishing array of talents. The current group, a record number of 50 graduates now in the first of their two years training in schools, have degrees from 19 different universities and display a vast range of talents and backgrounds.
TFA acting chief executive Kallie Rougos says they include graduates with chemistry and history PhDs, medical doctors, finance and senior business analysts, business owners and former managing directors, representatives of Australia in international mathematics and debating competitions, community workers with the Red Cross, Wesley Mission, Oxfam and UNICEF, foreign aid and exchange workers across East Timor, Palestine, Peru, South Korea and Liberia, fluent speakers of Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, French and German, and a trained firefighter and even a former national fencing champion.
Ms Rougos says nearly 3300 graduates from around Australia have applied to undertake the two-year course at Melbourne since the scheme began and, of those, 320 have been offered a place, with 175 undertaking the training at the university and in schools. While 85 graduates from the first two cohorts have completed the two-year program at Melbourne, a third group is halfway through, a fourth started this year and will finish in 2014, and the fifth group of 50 is being selected to begin the course next year.
It's pretty exciting that people who may not have normally considered teaching are now considering Teach For Australia to be a really viable career path.  It's becoming a real alternative to the more mainstream consulting, finance or law options that are pitched to graduates at law school and the top universities.  That's another huge strength of the program because there are so many who do really want to become teachers and work in education but it's never been presented to them as an option before

Even if associates leave the profession to go onto other areas, it means they have more of an understanding of what is faced by so many who are in less privileged positions and have spent two years working with students who need the most support in really challenging schools.  That experience changes people's life trajectories, including mine.  Teach For America associates have gone onto create charter schools, become policy-makers, become life-long advocates of educational equality for all.  Who knows what will come out of Teach For Australia?  

It fills me with huge outrage when I think back to the completely avoidable systemic and structural difficulties that my students had to face at school on top of their already hard lives at home (Semester 1 reports handed out in the middle of term 3, with most having no comments due to the teacher strike?!).  It makes me fume to consider the ill-thought out policies governments wanted to enact to address educational issues (performance pay when a school principal has stated they play favourites?!)  And sadly, I have seen first-hand that, despite all the amazing, inspiring, hard-working teachers I have met and worked with, there are many others who work in schools that are not invested in their students and not making sure they have the best education.  That was my own naivety coming into the education system and I'm glad I know better now.

So what?  I want to learn more, I want to see what I can do to be part of closing the gap, I want to see an end to students getting a sub-par education just because they come from families that don't have as much money and live in an area where public schools are failing...

An African proverb says: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." To transform education for every child in this country, we must go together. (From Rick Hess's amazing blog)

That's the thing about education: it's a global issue, everyone and their cat has an opinion, there are a million different policies and problems, it's hugely political, interdisciplinary, the teaching profession is dominated by females which makes it a target for attacks, throwing money at it doesn't make it all better, and the achievement gap between high and low socio-economic students is actually widening in Australia.

Working and studying in this landscape has been a huge roller coaster ride and I'm happy to be documenting the journey.  

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