I peer across the aisle and onto the seat across from me. My mind perks up on a weird memory. Is that face a familiar one? The bus ride is boring and I need something to give me some lift. I notice that the potentially familiar face on the exposed page of the newspaper lying vacant before me is indeed familiar. It is a former peer of mine from university, who, not surprisingly still resides within the walls of that same place. You see, before taking on the role I have recently stepped into, I found concerning pre-requisites surrounding university further study and its necessity when applying for higher places of employment. These were hampering my progression in educational leadership and, although I knew why, my attirbutes would almost certainly outweigh the small letters that do NOT exist before my name. That’s right, expertise and experience more or less count for nothing when taking on new positions within some school sectors. (And I know it comes across whiney) Although it totally sounds like complaining about not receiving jobs applied for, I do find it interesting when you get shortlisted for several very admirable roles, then overlooked for a lack of qualifications; not the lack of quality in application or interview!
This is nothing new people, we all know this. And don’t get me wrong, more knowledge generally means more power. This just doesn’t sit well with me and nor should it, you. It just makes interesting food for thought when trying to conquer our greatest mysteries in modern, nation-wide, education: the mere stagnation in the progression of student outcomes. I could open a whole new can of worms here, as this is such a huge topic to blog about but let’s just dive into the one today. My query is: why are the people leading our future teachers (who will in turn lead our future generations of inspiring humans) ill-equipped to teach yet still find themselves leading not only these future teachers but the wage war that continues to wrought the system itself?
**SIDENOTE** Background on higher education: Many countries actually have compulsory Master Degree acquisition from all educators to ensure best practice ensues, making the strength in educators well rounded and, of course, more robust. These extras initials ensure credibility per se is inclined within the educational centres.
Skip forward three days, I am at the local aquatic centre and bump into a former lecturer of mine from the university. Incidentally, he is about to retire (after over twenty years at the institute – and not before over twenty-five as a teacher, then leader- including principal- in schools). He asked of my progression, speaks of those whom he knows in my graduation group and then dabbles in some opinion around the placement of pre-service teachers into the big bad world of real-life classroom practice.
An interesting time for me to say the least. I wrangle within to come up with more positives than negatives when reflecting on our current university degree. I scratch my head in confusion, then scoff at some of the hidden demons our universities hide from the general public- none more head quivering, eye-rolling and teeth grimacing than the state at which they release their teachers in.
In previous blogs on similar topics, you may remember me being quite critical of firstly, the expertise (and lack thereof) of teachers and then their willingness to cover up deficiencies with the fear of looking incapable, but secondly, the rate at which teacher graduates then leave the profession. To jot your memory, the statistics are now up to 43% of first to five-year graduate teachers are walking away from the career they once thought to be admirable, pleasant and even inspiring. My point here is that this 43 % plus the other 57% (who are either rather resilient or very lucky to have such strong support from their leaders and mentors) are ill-prepared for the rigous of real-world teaching and the kids are suffering most. Who is going to be held accountable?
Practicums are stupendous for pre-service teacher development. Placement of, sometimes over one hundred university students, however, must be a daunting task. I get it, I’m not saying universities aren't doing their best here. After all, it can sometimes be a headache for schools to take on university students to allow for the perfect segue into the real-world. And, given the quality of existing teachers at times, it is easily assumed why some of the graduate teachers are passed and then released into schools as ‘qualified’ educators to take the helm of their very own classroom. But this is not my gripe.
Let’s go back to this article in the paper, and the back story I took in at the Aquatic Centre. My lecturer told me of many practicums simply being passed for the sake of an image, preservation of university standing on the national front and, if failure was imminent, the university would allow the pre-service teacher to ‘try again next year’. This would sometimes happen up to three times before the university simply had to intervene and say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the gig for you”. This opens a line of thought around, 'maybe, just maybe, teachers either just naturally have it or don't' - which could then correlate to the poor standards to which student data is adhering.
The tale though that most annoyed me was the guy from my introduction, with his mug in the rag. It was common knowledge this guy was an academic; a very bright one at that. The only problem was, he, like many others in our cohort, not cut out for teaching. He owned it and, in fourth year, just before placement, went to the department heads and requested to go to an “easy” school for his final hoorah. His logic being that he had got this far and really didn’t see the point in dropping out now, but acknowledged he may fail if given an arduous final placement - at perhaps a difficult behavioural cluster school. Seems odd, right? He was, as the squeaky wheel normally is, tended to, and passed his final placement. The university knew full-well he was probably never going to end up in the classroom, yet this was ok, he had passed with honours and had paid his tuition amply.
So, ten years on, to hear him quoting why student outcomes have stagnated, even regressed on a range of data platforms and systemic testing forums, was surprising. In fact, when he went on to judge the quality of teachers and classroom practice, I screwed up the newspaper completely. I mean, as an experienced teacher and now leader, that’s my job, right? I have deservedly owned that place to find trends in where areas of improvement need to stem from. Above all, having taught in multiple states, across several education sectors probably gives me scope to base these opinions, but this guy? I was angry. That’s not all.
I found out, during my chats with my former lecturer, this now uni-lecturer's wife also decided teaching in the classroom was not for her, without first experiencing it. Then, their good friend (also an honours’ academic) and never once stood inside a classroom to call his own, yet they too now spend their time in universities preaching how best practice happens this way or that. Oh, and did I mention the wages they earn are upwards of two-and-a-half times that of an early career graduate teacher? Take my whining out of the equation for a moment and put a lens over this argument. Are we seeing some links from the issues with education and the pure lack of knowledge and expertise that often comes with the teaching or teachers? These people have these initials in front of their name and not a single trail of experience to go with it. WE often say, “Educators have the enormous ability to impact so many before them.” And what an opportunity we have to make a difference. It’s actually mind-blowing! But… surely there’s something wrong when we pay these inexperienced teaching graduates to tutor and lecture our university teacher-wannabes a truckload of money, then wonder why our state of education continues to slide.
To wind up my rant, I will say one thing. My initial worry was that when we spend too much time trying to upskill via papers, documentation and unwarranted research, we get lost in our career’s purpose. If we can agree there is real worth in expert mentoring and practicing what we preach, then the world would be a better place… and we save ourselves the time and money we waste on lining the universities’ pockets.
I will finish on a very relevant contextual link: Game of Thrones!
One particular character quotes a beautiful summary of my blog's thoughts
"Fighting wars makes you a soldier, not the title" ~Beric Dondarrion.