Natasha Bita ( ‘Teacher woes create student underclass’, ‘The Australian 14/9) identifies two key areas of need that have been of great concern to teachers and principals for many, many years. Both have a prime place in the National School Reform Agreement released by the productivity Commission.
One contemporary concern, – an obstacle to classroom teachers for so long it has become historical – is the demand they focus on administrative tasks that consume time and distract them from key teaching tasks. These hours reduce face-to-face teaching time, requiring teachers to offer passive and often repetitive learning tasks so they can focus on priority administrative tasks, demanded by education systems. In terms of system priorities, data collection by teachers has become more important than teaching. That has to be reversed.
Permanently improving the quality of teaching degrees offered by universities, is the Commission’s second major recommendation. The relevance of teaching degrees offered trainee teachers has been diminishing for decades – indeed from the 1980’s. Training in the 1960’s and 70’s focussed on the methodology of teaching particular (and all) subjects. Planning lessons, knowing subject content and practice in direct teaching methods during periods of ‘on the job’ training in schools, were key elements of teacher preparation. Practice teaching periods, teaching methods and subject content all had to be passed. So too, did tests in spelling, mathematics, speech and reading. The two, then three year training periods were intense. Those who failed, did not graduate.
Teaching degrees would be enhanced and refocussed if a ‘back to the future approach’ to training was adopted. Having waited for so long for pre-service teacher training to again become relevant, I am not holding my breath.