13/12/2008

Recruiting, Training, Retaining and Rewarding the Best and Brightest

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:40 am

So, in no particular order, a bunch of suggestions for developing a teaching force to transform education in Queensland. As with the broader suggestions outlined yesterday, these are a suite and should be considered together. Many of those points from yesterday are also very relevant to the issue of attracting and retaining teachers, particularly the ones on class size, support for students with special needs and in relation to classroom behaviour, curricular stability and the massive reduction of paperwork.

Clearly, entry into teacher education courses is a matter of supply and demand: the much-lamented low entry scores1 are purely a result of relatively low demand for the courses, for a variety of reasons. Of course, in a simplistic world it would be possible to just change the entry scores by fiat, but all that would do is kill off the Schools and Faculties of Education and exacerbate the already critical and growing teacher shortage. The only long term solution to raising entry scores is making people want to study teaching and become teachers.

  1. No more of this non-permanent contract nonsense. We know that about half of all new teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years, but is that surprising when they are hired on one-year contracts with no job certainty? The frustration caused by this practice is enormous. There is also excellent research to show that teachers are much more effective both within themselves as teachers and in school communities when they stay for longer periods. So whatever it takes in terms of better Human Resource management to deal with maternity leaves and study leaves and other issues, it’s essential that beginning teachers are offered real, substantive jobs in schools, where they can put down some professional roots and start to build the relationships that are the key to teaching.
  2. Raise the profile and prestige of teaching as a career in the community. There are a number of facets of doing this, but having politicians avoid crapping on teachers from on high whenever it suits their short term political goals would be a nice start. If community leaders (which, heaven help us, include politicians) went out of their way to praise good teachers, to recognise the importance of education to the community and to honour the work teachers do, that would have a huge effect on students’ perceptions of the teaching profession and desire to enter it.
  3. Develop a really workable career progression path within the classroom. I don’t think salaries in absolute terms are such an important motivator – and they may be more important in changing community perceptions of the teaching profession than in actually retaining teachers – but most teaching career structures top out in terms of increments for training and experience at 10 years after graduation. That means that by age 35, with potentially 30 years left in the profession, most teachers are already at the top of the scale, with no financial incentive to undergo further education and training or to keep improving their practice. The only way to earn more is to move out of the classroom, so the ‘best and brightest’ we worked so hard to get in there move out. Keeping the best teachers in the classroom is crucial.
  4. Offer real incentives to teachers for postgraduate study. Returning to university to complete a Masters or PhD helps teachers to look at their practice in new ways, and refreshes their understanding of the issues, so incentives and support for further study can help retain and improve good teachers. Develop professional development Master of Education courses available to all teachers, for which they are given time off from teaching to study full time, and which lead to salary increases.
  5. Develop professional development (PD) programs that are planned, on-going, relevant and have an appropriate balance of theory and practice. Meet both the teachers’ perceived needs (what they know they need) and unperceived needs (what they need but don’t know about). Avoid PD that is only about the latest brainwave from the department or some paper-shuffling nonsense, and focus on the knowledge and skills – and their theoretical underpinnings – that teachers need in order to teach.
  6. Resist the dumbing down of the teaching profession. Many people, including some teachers, call for a very ‘practical’ teacher education program, by which they mean lots of content knowledge background and then simply putting teachers into existing schools to learn how to teach in an apprenticeship model. These same people tend to decry the role of theory. But that kind of teacher education leads only to the perpetuation of the existing models of teaching… and that’s what we’re trying to revolutionise. So teacher education programs need to be professional education programs that equip teachers with the theoretical knowledge to make informed judgements about their practice and the various issues they encounter. In addition, the ‘best and brightest’ students will be those who are interested in ideas and in discussing ideas.
  7. If students’ results must be used as a way of measuring teacher performance, then get sophisticated about it, not simplistic. I’ve talked briefly here before about ‘value-added’ measures of school performance, which measure the change in student results rather than the absolute value. That’s a much fairer way, and avoids punishing the students and teachers in poorer areas of the state simply for being poor. In relation to this:
  8. Find really sophisticated ways of measuring and understanding teacher performance. If teacher performance is really important, then we need to put in the money and other resources needed to measure it right. Student test results are one tiny facet, and rely on a wide variety of factors other than teacher skill. What about the teacher’s ability to develop really engaging learning experiences, to fire up the students and get them motivated and interested? What about the quality of the discussions in the classroom, or the number of labs and other important activities a teacher conducts? What about creative, thoughtful integration of ICTs in teaching, and links with other subjects? What about educating students to be good global citizens?2 To reward good performance we need to understand what good performance is and have really credible ways of measuring it.
  9. Develop credible paths for teachers to retrain for different levels of education and for different subject areas. Recognise that this is not simple. In particular, there is a shortage of secondary teachers in some fields, and an excess of primary teachers in the Brisbane area. While primary and secondary teaching are different callings with different talents, some primary teachers could be retrained for junior secondary school teaching in subject areas where they have strong backgrounds, freeing up trained secondary teachers for the shortage areas.
  10. Rather than a one year Graduate Diploma in Education for students with an existing degree, move to a two year Master of Teaching program. One year is too little time to develop as a teacher. The M.Teach. would not be the same as the research or coursework Master of Education, but would be a high level professional qualification, well informed with theory as well as with extensive practice teaching time across the two years.

No doubt there are plenty more, but this is probably enough to be going on with…

Oh, and find gags for the morons who keep telling everyone around them that teachers work 8:30-3:30, 40 weeks a year. ;)

  1. In some ways I’m less than convinced entry scores are a good measure anyway: teaching is as much about personality and attitude and approach to life as it is about ability to achieve at the highest levels academically, and there’s no test for that. Teachers need to be smart, but not necessarily geniuses. They need to be good people, and that’s a much higher standard.
  2. Some of these are probably seen as falling into the ‘woolly thinking, too PC, not the way it was when I were a lad’ basket, but if they’re properly understood it is actually these kinds of facets of good teaching that lead to high academic success.

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