Teaching plan under spotlight

Student teachers and academics in Western Australia have mixed views on a New South Wales plan to scrap the traditional approach to professional placement.

A program has been introduced to almost a dozen independent schools in NSW, scrapping the standard block practical period for students completing their teacher education course.

Instead, Bachelor of Education students will be placed with the same mentor one day a week for the entire school year.

Curtin University secondary education student Aimee Stewart says the NSW plan has pros and cons.

“I don’t believe I’d prefer it in replacement of what we have now, however, I do see the benefits in understanding how children progress and the differences in the school year,” she says.

The new program is designed by the Association of Independent Schools NSW and a number of universities.

It is designed to help education students develop skills in behaviour management, planning cycles and evaluating growth in the classroom.

However, Ms Stewart says the success of WA’s block practical placement model comes down to the mentor a trainee is assigned.

“I do believe that three-weeks really submerses you … it really depends on the prac teacher you have.”

Student teachers in WA are required to take part in a practical period once or twice a year for varying weeks at a time to develop teaching skills.

Curtin University Bachelor of Education course coordinator Saul Karnovsky says WA’s model could be revised.

“From my perspective, working in this space for over a decade, I would say … the current model of placing students into school is profoundly unsustainable,” he says.

Saul Karnovsky

Professor Karnovsky says the NSW trials could alleviate pressure on students balancing commitments outside of university and also help schools.

“The model being trialled in NSW may well open the door with schools who feel stretched and unable to mentor students effectively,” he says.

“Students who are caring for dependents or working to maintain their living conditions will very likely see this as being beneficial as they do not need to take extended time off work or find carers.”

Hear more from Aimee Stewart.

Third-year Bachelor of Education student Jordan Foyle says each practical period enhances skills.

“I think that the two weeks is a good way to get an introductory ‘this is what teaching is kind of like’ and then the three weeks kind of just builds on it,” he says.

“The 10 week is the big one … kind of goes ‘this is what it would be like to teach for a whole semester’.”

Mr Foyle says he is interested in the NSW year-long placements, but prefers WA’s approach.

“It would be interesting to see how it would go but I think in the long run, I would prefer to do that [block practical] more,” he says.

“I don’t think that one day a week will provide students with a proper insight of what being a teacher is.”

Ms Stewart says she would like to see the introduction of both options to fill the gap between practical placements.

“We had our last prac for two weeks last semester two, but we won’t receive another prac until the end of semester two this year … you could lose the skills in a year,” she says.

A survey by the Black Dog Institute found high percentages of teachers suffer from staffing shortages and mental health issues. Infographic: Cailin Lucken.

The NSW trial has been implemented to address burn out and staffing shortages.

A survey conducted by the Black Dog Institute in February showed almost 80 per cent of teachers reported staffing shortages in their place of employment.

Approximately 60 per cent of teachers within the survey reported mental health-related absences, as anxiety figures peaked at more than 46 per cent among teachers.

Mr Karnovsky says implementing a practical placement plan to reduce burn out in student teachers would help reduce the workloads of existing teachers.

“A great pre-service teacher can mean your workload is reduced as high performing students often take increasing levels of responsibility for classes and assessments,” he says.

The Black Dog Institute’s survey found 70 per cent of teachers are overwhelmed by their workloads.

Survey data from the Black Dog Institute. Infographic: Cailin Lucken.

Ms Stewart says students are shocked by teacher’s workloads when it comes to their second-year practical.

“We have a high drop-out percentage rate due to the fact that in year one, we don’t have any pracs, and then when it comes to year two and they experience the prac placements … they get a real shock when they realise the workload.”