PREPARING THOSE WHO WOULD TEACH – A Need to Revisit Yesterday’s Practices


A lot is being talked about in the community and reported in the media on the subject of teacher quality. The soul searching and almost daily comment around Australia and in the Northern Territory is futuristic and forward looking. I believe in looking forward, those responsible for teacher preparation need to reflect on past teacher training practices, revisiting and including some of the key elements in our 21st century teacher preparation courses.

Historical Priorities

My teacher training dates back to 1968 and 1969 at Graylands Teachers College, a post second-world-war collection of Nissan Huts with a few added on buildings, in Perth WA.

At that time, two year training programs were being phased out, being replaced by three years of training. As a mature age student I was required to be one of the last two year trainees.

Fast forward nearly fifty years, and no-one gets to graduate as a teacher without a four year degree or a Graduate Diploma in Teaching built onto a pre-existing degree. The difference between training then and now, involves more than course length.

You would think that the extra training would lead to better teaching on graduation. Not so. In those past years, trainees were taught to teach and were properly readied for the classroom. These days, its often a case of degree qualified teachers being readied to take up classroom positions without the methodological awareness training they need to confidently enter the profession. High level academic qualifications do not necessarily translate into excellent teaching skills.

While the world is a more complicated place than it was fifty years ago, the essence of what is required to be a good teacher stays the same. Subject knowledge, a sound understanding of teaching methods and the ability to ‘model’ as a teacher dealing with children were essentials when I trained – and should be the same in this day and age.

The needs remain but I worry that critical teaching and preparation methodologies are insufficiently stressed. Rather than prospective teachers receiving that understanding while in training, they graduate with degrees and as neophytes are expected to begin acquiring practical teaching skills and dispositions upon full-time entry into classroom teaching positions.

Teacher Training in the Sixties

In the 1960’s, trainees at Graylands undertook the following studies:

* Educational Theory and Practice, a detailed unit that occupied two years.

* Teaching Methods for key subjects which also conducted over two years. Key subjects included English, Mathematics, Psychology, Social Science (including history and geography). Teaching method included consideration of Junior, Middle and Senior Primary students.

* One year courses taken during the two year program included Social Institutions, Science, Art, Craft, Music, Oral English, Physical Education, Health Education, and Drama.

* Students had to undertake one major and three minor electives relating to teaching and involving research and formal recording and documentation. Nature Study, further investigation of Education Theory and Methodology, Creative Writing and Historical research are examples of optional studies.

* A compulsory one year course in Arithmetic set at Grade Seven level had to be satisfied. This included an exam which had to be passed before graduation. Those failing had to re-study, re-sit and pass the exam before satisfying training requirements.

* A compulsory one year Spelling course had to be passed. Trainees sat a test during which 100 words were administered. A pass required 99% (ie one mistake only allowed). A cross out and re-write of a word so it was correct, was deemed a ‘mistake’. Students failing this and Arithmetic had to re-sit the exams at a later date.

There were other requirements .

* During the two year course, students had to attend lessons being taught at Demonstration Schools. They had to observe then discuss lessons with demonstration teachers. They then had to write these lessons in a Demonstration Book in reflective manner that indicated their developing awareness of teaching pros and cons.

* At the beginning of their two year program, all potential teachers were given a reading and oracy task. Those who were assessed as being other than fully competent readers and speakers, were required to attend speech and diction classes aimed at developing these skills. This was seen as necessary because classroom teachers were models for their students.

Practice Teaching

* Students undertook a practice teaching round (teaching practicum) each term. Duration increased from the first practice of one week to the final practice of one month. Each student went out on practice teaching six times during their two year program, in different school types and at varying grade levels.

Trainee teachers were rigorously assessed by the practice school and the training college. At the end of formal observations both oral and written feedback was offered the practice teacher. This focussed on lesson content, teaching method, and vital supplementaries of classroom control (management) and student assessment.

At the end of the practice, a Teaching Mark was awarded to each student. She or he took this to the next practice, with the challenge that competencies be consolidated in order to ‘grow’ the person as a preservice teacher. Evidence of growth sustained or added to the teaching mark, but backward movement reduced that evaluation.


In order to graduate, students had to pass all subjects. They also had to attain a C level Teaching Mark or better. Those failing in these requirement might be Awarded a Conditional Teaching Certificate, with a requirement that the deficit be made good and the certificate confirmed within the first teaching year. If this did not happen, employment of the teacher was discontinued.

Of the various courses I have undertaken over time, the attaining of my Teacher’s Certificate was by far and away the hardest of these studies. Along with other students (there were some 230 from memory in my course, including quite a healthy percentage of men) I often wondered at the need for the course to be so rigorous and often so fatiguing.

Over the years, I have come to bless the training I received for its focus on both rigour and emphasis. Teacher training was character building. Not everyone stayed the course. However the attrition rate was not huge, because prior to entry all aspirants were psychologically tested and evaluated for suitability to undertake the training program.

Without doubt, the focus and the quality of our training helped, for we were solidly prepared for entry into schools and classrooms. Our preparation for this vital profession was based on a solid foundation.

I don’t disrespect modern day teacher preparations by Universities and Colleges of Advanced Education. However, there is room for the solid foundation received by those who trained yesterday to be revisited in these modern times.

Henry Gray

March 11 2013