Teacher training – who needs it?

I started teaching (OK, yes, it was decades ago) with no training at all. Hobart Technical College was happy to take me on to teach maths to its apprentices and diploma students, dutifully armed with my BSc and six months’ working experience in a prison. Yes, I’d done quite a bit of tutoring while studying, but it hardly prepared me for a classroom of Commerce students (all female) who had failed their mid-year calculations exam and were required to ‘lift their game’ (I was assigned the 0 – 20 group). I’ll spare you the details of my excruciating efforts to inspire them with the wonderful world of mathematics.

Surviving the experience (just!), I went on to eventually complete a Technical Trainer’s Certificate, a Diploma of Education and so on. I’d like to believe that it made me a better teacher, and that is just as well, as my most recent work was in tertiary academic staff development.

Which brings us on to universities, wherein most staff do not receive any teacher training before entering the lecture hall, and few go on to undertake it. What is fascinating is that the situation is of seemingly no concern to students nor the community, whereas if it were a primary or secondary school, it would be deemed outrageous.

And I suppose that is why a scheme to ‘fast track’ smart young graduates into the teaching force attracted enough attention to warrant a full-page special article in The Age. Yes, a cohort of 45 teachers with just six weeks of training has been catapulted into Victorian schools through the ‘Teach for Australia‘ scheme.

Teach for Australia, like its US predecessor Teach for America, is “working to confront educational disadvantage in Australia. We do this by transforming outstanding graduates into inspirational teachers and leaders.” So the 45 rapidly trained teachers are being sent to disadvantaged / underachieving schools, where they will not only teach, but receive further part-time in-service training in order to qualify for a Diploma of Education after two years.

Good idea? Probably yes, though the scheme has naturally encountered some resistance from the usual quarters. But it is set to be introduced to other Australian states, with Queensland looking to be the next.

And the initiative is not confined to developed countries. Allied to the UN’s Millenium Development Goals is the Fast Track Initiative of UNESCO’s Education for All programme. The focus is primary education in 38 low-income countries, and impressive progress has been made since its inception in 2002. Read all about it in the report, A Fast Track to 2015: Educating the World’s Children for a Better Future.

Teacher training – yes, of course it’s essential, but we must be awake and aware of the need to harness innovative methods to overcome the desperate shortage of teachers.

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