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We need to change the way we select future teachers

Posted on 21 August 2017
We need to change the way we select future teachers

As a teacher, I know that the intellectual tasks required of me are also the aspects of the job which have become the easiest.

Reading and understanding new curricula, planning lessons and assessing student work have all become routine.

The difficulty arises in the relational aspects of the job and in the unpredictable nature of the work.

Every student is different and every classroom and school setting presents unique challenges. To deal with these challenges teachers need to be creative thinkers and problem solvers.

In 2015, the Australian Secondary Principals' Association outlined some qualities and attributes of effective graduate teachers.

This included a high IQ, but emotional intelligence, good communication skills and the ability to collaborate were also highly regarded.

Some of these 'soft skills' can be developed with experience, but others are more difficult to cultivate as they may partly relate to personality or disposition.

This is the reason why many teacher candidates sail through university assignments only to find that the classroom setting is 'just not for them'.

As a profession, we have a responsibility to select the right people for the job, both for future students and for the teacher candidates themselves.

Why should teacher candidates invest time and money working towards a degree only to find they are ill suited to the classroom environment?

The recent attention on ATAR scores and the literacy and numeracy skills of those wishing to enter the profession is warranted, but perhaps the reason it has been met with some criticism is that it is an oversimplification of the teaching role.

Many teachers know from their own experiences that highly intelligent people do not necessarily make the best teachers.

In 2016 and 2017, the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education was ranked amongst the top five education faculties in the world.

Entry to the University's Master of Teaching program is dependent on the prior completion of an undergraduate degree. This means that teachers have some life experience and maturity when they enter the classroom.

Moreover, as of this year, the University of Melbourne will also require future students to complete the Teacher Capability Assessment Tool (TCAT).

According to the university's website, 'the TCAT is a web-based tool to help identify the optimal mix of knowledge and personal skills to become a successful teacher.

It asks about previous experience, motivations to teach and includes questions on literacy and numeracy skills, other abilities and disposition.'

"Research has demonstrated that tests of ability are predictive of occupational performance, and personal qualities are related to higher job performance and self-efficacy" the TCAT website says.

This type of testing is similar to Situational Judgement Tests, a type of psychometric test where candidates are asked to respond to realistic workplace situations. A number of other organisations also use this type of testing.

For example, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has recently opted to include a Candidate Assessment and Applied Knowledge Test (CAAKT) in order to assess candidates wishing to become General Practitioners.

While traditional testing may assess cognitive abilities, the medical field has recognised that non-cognitive abilities such as professionalism, empathy, communication and ethics are also crucial for success as a doctor.

The teaching profession, as a relational profession, is one which requires a similar skill set which cannot be assessed on the basis of ATAR or literacy and numeracy testing alone.

A number of institutions have now implemented literacy and numeracy testing in an effort to ensure high levels of literacy and numeracy amongst teacher cohorts.

The Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students has been designed by ACER test writers, to assess aspects of personal literacy and numeracy skills of initial teacher education students.

While all of this is helpful in assessing a candidate's literacy and numeracy, teacher education courses must include selection tools that also assess non-cognitive abilities. 

The role of a teacher is difficult and our attrition rate is at an all-time high. The latest estimates suggest between 30 and 50 per cent of teachers are leaving within the first five years.

There are a number of factors at work here and the problem is complex.

Better mentoring and flexible working conditions will help to support graduate teachers in their first years on the job.

However, if we are not selecting the right people in the first place, all of this is a wasted investment and the people most affected will be our school students.


By Orania Theoharidis
Community contribution  Education HQ/ August 14, 2017



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