Good Teachers Where They Are Needed

Jennifer Buckingham
19 October 2005 | IA64
Good Teachers Where They Are Needed

Allowing qualified professionals to become teachers through school-based education has the potential to reduce Australia’s ever-increasing shortage of teachers.

Australia has a shortage of suitably qualified maths and science teachers and a continuing problem with attracting good teachers to rural schools. Labour market analyses predict that these problems will become worse in the near future under current demand and supply conditions.

Numerous inquiries and reviews at the state and federal level have provided reason to believe that the requirement for full-time university pre-service education is a deterrent to potential teachers. This is particularly the case for high calibre maths and science graduates, whose career opportunities are numerous and attractive, as well as professionals considering a career change. The sacrifice of a year’s salary, with no guarantee of satisfactory employment, is often not an appealing option.

This need not be the case. Alternative forms of teacher education offer a way around this problem, without sacrificing (and indeed arguably increasing) the quality of teacher education.

School-based teacher education, which operates like a paid internship, offers the most promise. In the model proposed here, secondary schools in need of a teacher could recruit directly from recent graduates or from the non-teaching labour force people of suitable qualifications, and allow them to undertake paid teaching duties while they gain their teaching qualification.

School-based teacher education has numerous advantages beyond the labour market imbalances it targets. It is highly efficient, offering schools the opportunity to recruit teachers with the expertise and other characteristics that meet the specific needs of their school. It trains only those teachers for whom positions are available. It effectively addresses widespread concerns that university teacher education courses do not provide trainees with sufficient classroom experience, and that graduates are ill-prepared for taking on full teaching duties.

Despite the clear need for new strategies to attract teachers, rather than making it easier for able people of good character to enter teaching, Australian authorities and education institutions are gradually making it more difficult. Likewise, despite strong evidence that new teachers are sorely lacking in practical experience, there have been limited attempts to make classrooms more central to teacher preparation.

This paper does not argue that it is necessary, however, to overhaul every teacher education programme in the country. What is necessary is to offer alternatives that acknowledge the diverse characteristics and needs of potential teachers and allow them to enter the profession as readily as possible.

This paper suggests a targeted approach that is market-based and therefore hinges on supply and demand. It is aimed purely at secondary school teachers, to address areas of teacher shortage by reducing the disincentives to entering the teaching profession. It is informed by evidence that school-based teacher education is effective, and according to some experts, highly desirable.

Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of Schools in the Spotlight: School Performance Reporting and Public Accountability (2003).

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