These columns were published in the Darwin/Palmerson/ Litchfield Suns in April and May 2014
Readers are welcome to quote and use, but I would appreciate acknowledgement of the Suns Newspapers.
TEACHER TRAINING IS IN GOOD HANDS
Preservice teacher education is one of the most important training programs shared by the Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Northern Territory Schools. Preparing our next generation of teachers in the Territory, began during Darwin Community College (DCC) days. As tertiary education in the NT evolved, the DCC became the Northern Territory University (NTU) and later re-named the Charles Darwin University (CDU).
This year our university celebrated 25 years of tertiary education in the NT. During that time, there has been significant growth and change in work undertaken by all faculties, including that of managing education. Some of these changes have been forced by economic stringencies (faculty mergers) while others are the product of educational research and enhanced practice.
For the whole of its tertiary life, the university (and before that the DCC) has been instrumental in the training and development of our future teachers. Thousands of teachers attracted to our university from the Territory, interstate and overseas, have graduated with many going on to be among our very finest Territory and Australian educators. Some have returned to the university as lecturers attached to the School of Education.
Teacher education courses have changed over time, to comply with CDU training standards set by governing bodies. Undergraduate courses, once three year programs have now been upgraded. Teaching candidates are required to complete four years of training, graduating with Bachelor level degrees. (For students holding other degrees, a one year full time Graduate Diploma of Teaching course is available.)
Ten years ago the preservice teacher training model was altered, to more closely link the university with schools in which teachers would work on graduation. This teaching schools model formalised the training partnership and enabled closer links between Charles Darwin University and Northern Territory schools. Earlier pre-service and training models did not sufficiently link schools to the university and vice-versa.
During their training programs, teachers spend increasing periods of time in schools. Their initial school placement is an icebreaking experience built largely around observation and limited teaching. Each successive practice increases teaching opportunities, reaching a point of where the entire teaching program is the responsibility of the training teacher.
There is a strong link between CDU’s School of Education and Teaching Schools. Practice teachers are assigned a class and a mentor teacher. Each school has a designated Professional Learning Leader (PLL) who coordinates the practice round. Most schools accept a number of preservice teachers for each practice period. A role filled by the PLL is that of coordinating the whole school training program. This includes arranging weekly professional development sessions for all practice teachers. Within schools, preservice and mentor teachers share important and mutually beneficial collaboration.
In turn, school PLL’s and mentors liaise with School of Education lecturers in order to monitor preservice teachers progress and fine tune programs. This leads to periodic course upgrading.
The School of Education has an excellent reputation for its support of preservice teachers who are studying externally, both within the NT and elsewhere around Australia. The University’s online program, ‘Learnline’ is organised in a way that offers distance students full inclusion and participation in the program. This includes opportunities for trainee teachers to complete practice teaching rounds in their local school districts.
Our university’s contribution to preparing the next generation of teachers spreads far beyond its physical campus. Teaching is a vital profession. Teachers fill an invaluable and irreplaceable role in our community. It is reassuring to know that tomorrow’s teachers are being well prepared for the roles they will fill.
Note: I am a casual employee working with CDU’s School of Education.
APPRECIATING OUR EDUCATIONAL HISTORY
There is more to education in our schools than today, tomorrow and the future. Yesterday and times past should be in the frame. While it is essential that we consider the future and where schools and educational direction will head in time to come, we do well to reflect on history. Schools of today have been built upon their past. While relatively young by interstate comparison, it is true to say there are few Northern Territory schools less than twenty years old. That means they are building on history and establishing traditions.
Schools are ‘communities’ and no-where more so than in the Northern Territory. While our population has expanded in the past decade and continues to grow, we are small and somewhat insular by comparison to the states. This means Territorians come to have more personal contact with decision makers than elsewhere in Australia.
Most schools in the Territory pride themselves on the welcome given to parents inquiring about enrolment or enrolling their children. There is however, one piece of information very rarely available; a historical profile of schools available in print form.
History is ignored
When Gary Barnes became the Chief Education Officer (CEO) of Education in the Northern Territory during the Henderson Government era, he noted that there was a paucity of historical information about our system. He told principals at a Nightcliff Middle School meeting there was little to inform him of how education had evolved and developed in the NT. Mr Barnes intimated this could and should be corrected.
Lack of historical information extends to regions and schools. While some schools include historical facts on their websites, they are brief and aimed at potential enrolments.
Incoming staff (principals, teachers and support staff) generally have little idea of the background to schools gaining their services. There are notes left by outgoing principals and some teachers but these have more to do with what has been completed and what needs to be done administratively and educationally. While it is necessary to understand contemporary school matters, including the immediate past, there is little about historical background and setting. Setting future directions without an awareness of the past can be problematic.
There are a number of ways in which school communities can recognise and record their history. The following are a few suggestions:
* Whole school photographs taken annually and showing students and staff displayed for all to see.
* Honour boards commemorating academic and citizenship awardees, school house points results and so on. Board costs are often sponsored by parents or businesses supporting schools.
* School year books, in print or on DVD, with the latter uploaded onto school websites detail history over time.
* Depending on the school (primary or secondary) organise student projects that align with curriculum requirements, to develop historical background. Inclusion of findings might be uploaded onto the web or produced in book form (instance Parap Primary when celebrating its 50th Anniversary).
* Elaboration explaining the significance of memorial tributes, plaques and visible acknowledgements of past contributors to the school.
* The compilation of paper or online files of media stories about the school, its students and staff.
History is important because it recognises people and processes which have contributed to the culture of our system and its schools. Its recognition is essential if the ‘timeline of education’ systemically and locally is to be understood. History also recognises the efforts and contributions of those who, over time, have contributed to Territory Education and Territory Schools. History is rich. If it is ignored rather than being acknowledged and displayed, our system and its schools will be the poorer.