Beginning Teachers: P-Plates Please
After a reinvigorating second term, which saw me take on a practicum student, embarking on their last adventure (4th Year Placement) before entering the world of teaching, I sit and reflect. I watched in awe of this young budding nurturer who breathed life into my dying sense of hope in the system. This kind of teacher could just save the world in which we call our domain; she has awareness, respect, passion, enthusiasm, care and an uncanny sensitivity to the needs of each individual. It was indeed a very exciting display of development over her ten-week placement. What she did have too (which should never be under-rated) was the ability to listen. Something so simple, yet so very important in the future phase of her teaching career, for both classroom and staffroom. Taking on feedback and bouncing ideas around in mentoring sessions was a breeze and certainly got me thinking. It got me thinking about just what the impact mentor teachers have on the next generation of educators and I think I have solved the myriad of confusion as to why teachers fall victim to some of the most horrific statistics when in the first half decade of the teaching journey. "Stats?", you ask? Yes, stats like almost a quarter of teachers graduated since 2011 have left the profession and in that year (2011) alone, 31%. The stresses of the job, coupled with the patronising jibes (you know the ones: "Holidays! Are you teachers ever at work?" Or "I could easily be a teacher, they just play games with the kids all day, and get paid to do it"), have, according to the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, claimed up to half of all teachers in their first five years on the job. This is shocking though, for me, believable and certainly not surprising. The lack of skill, guidance and accountability play their role in making this first, and for some, the last stanza of the profession that much more difficult. I could sit and whine but that would serve no purpose really, we all know the worries of educators. But, after my recent experience, I feel it necessary to proclaim a solution of sorts. It goes like this… excuse the persistent 'P' theme - it all makes sense once you have read. Enjoy.
Perhaps projecting the persistent prominent problems with primary teachers when they inaugurate their professional passage is their lack of the 'P-word' principle to peruse and pursue most promptly.
When we say 'P-Word' what actually comes to mind for the new educator?
I'm going to explain the pilot of peppering 'P's' in primary teaching. It is a well defined, yet disregarded philosophy and practice that persistently pries with producing perfect primary practised professionals.
Possibly, 'P' stands for passion. This is one attribute new teachers are permeating profusely. For the beginning professional, it is clear there is no lack here and hence; teaching is promptly off to a positive commencement. If this quality remained evident amongst educators well into their second and even third and fourth decade of mediating youths then we would all be praising the peaches for the incredible school system we have. This is not only implausible; it is also far from the truth. At which point do teachers stop craving the progress of their personal practice? There doesn't seem to be a timeframe or passion clock but it is quite clear that a teacher's passion does fade or dwindle over the years of heading the learning experience of students. It is also definite that if educators do not at least lead their career with this 'P-Word' they may be in the wrong profession. The skills of a newly found fulltime teacher will come with another 'P-Word' we know as 'practise' (apparently this makes us perfect) but please allow me to continue on this pursuit for the tenuous 'P-Word'.
Passing conversations about education practice, behaviour management and the support of new educators come by often. There is always a theme and tone that overshadows positivity. Provision. Peer mediation, school's leadership and of course, principals are not giving enough support or guidance to their colleagues. Professional learning and development are not only underrated, it is under-utilised and absently encouraged. Once these leaders establish themselves at the top of the pecking order it seems the lack of empathy and direction is ever so present, unless of course, it is a professional requirement in order to progress careers further. Simple peer observation and friendly feedback allow for development and this, in its simplest form creates collegiality and leaves the door for better teaching practice ajar. The rigours of leading a school institute are demanding but this difficult task can be made easier through precise vision, attainable goals and ample professional development. Like in our classrooms, schools need routine, the members within need to know their place, need to feel welcome and ready to make mistakes so they progress through collaborative involvement. So please, principals and peers of beginning teachers alike, please acknowledge a set of 'P-Plates' on our newest comrades in our industry.
Palatable practice can be achieved with the previous ingredients; however, penetrating professional proficiency is not entirely a result of them. Parenting priorities are often not taken into account in schools. Should it matter? Yes and no. Yes, because trying to change or eliminate nurture can be a difficult, if not an impossible task. No, because your ability to truly make a difference in a student's school experience is up to the teacher, in its entirety. Creating ideals about the structure and class culture is a tough assignment but it is the single most important component in aiding the learning of our students. Does it teach literacy and numeracy? No. Does it offer room for progression in school life? Yes. Often this is the single biggest battle for early educators. There is an abundance of vigilant and perfectly planned teachers that enter the education field but they lack one thing. Control. No matter the proficiency of lesson structure and sequence of learning, the teacher will never be fully competent without control. This doesn't mean standing at the front of the room screaming and demanding respect so that learning can take place either. It is a clearly guided, self-maintained respect. Independent and responsible learners feel empowered by their rules, they feel encouraged to make mistakes within their environment, for the benefit of their peers. The classroom should be somewhere safe where ridicule is left at the door and the atmosphere is a warm, friendly haven. Sounds nice hey? How does this occur in a classroom of a newly trained teacher with no experience? Precise philosophy. This can only come from the system in which teachers and students take part in each and every school day.
Parting with pride and participating in precipitous, precedential proximity is preferred. Simply being there for beginning teachers is all it takes. Passing praise, deliberate positivity and perennial management of best practice should ensure our true 'P-Word' is apparent for the best success. And when this is done, planned proficiency is patent. Overwhelming support is truly what is needed, even when it is not needed. To know someone is always there, gives that sense of confidence, a desire to improve and harness good for everyone involved in the process. So, what is that magic 'P' word, after all of this pandering? 'P' is for probation. Not at all with any negative connotation, but moreover with preference to planned proficiency. Place positive probation at the pinnacle of priority and practised professionals will perform.