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Developing quality teachers for Australian classrooms

Professional standards for teaching and the rigorous accreditation of training courses do not necessarily ensure we develop quality teachers, according to a new report.

Building quality in teaching and teacher education, by Professor Nan Bahr of Griffith University and Suzanne Mellor of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), argues that personal attributes that enable an effective teacher to become a high-quality teacher cannot be developed through a competency-based standards system alone.

According to the report, current accreditation methods only consider the competencies that teachers demonstrate rather than the personal attributes that have a positive effect on students’ learning. These attributes – such as the ability to motivate, build confidence and inspire aspirations – cannot be measured but they can be demonstrated.

The report concedes there is merit in specifying capabilities and applying a standards-based teacher evaluation system. However, quality initial teacher education also needs to recognise the vital capacity that quality teachers have to win hearts and minds, and to establish positive relationships with students.

Additionally, the report argues, it is the role of initial teacher education to target and develop these attributes. 

Over-regulation and under-preparation

Governments in Australia have increased levels of regulation in both schools and universities, with the aim of enhancing teacher quality.

‘With the introduction of a national set professional standards for teachers, teachers’ roles have been constrained into a set of competency-like behaviours that dictate the knowledge and capacities required to become a teacher,’ the report notes.

As a result, teacher educators struggle to find a balance between complying with regulatory matters of governance and the innovation required to cater for the changing nature of teachers’ work.

The national program standards for the accreditation of initial teacher education exacerbates the situation by reducing teacher preparation and the complexities of teachers’ work to a set of outdated competency-based behaviours.

According to the report, this ‘tick-the-box’ way of preparing and grading teachers not only fails to recognise the attributes that make up a quality teacher, it under-prepares teaching graduates for the challenges they will face in today’s classrooms.

‘The business of meeting the requirements of accreditation has seemingly become the dominant discourse in teacher education, replacing innovation and rigour in designing a teacher education curriculum that might guarantee quality graduates and strengthen the future of the teaching profession,’ the authors note in the report.

‘As government continues to overregulate the education profession, the challenge to be responsive to change and prepare teachers for the future seems impossible to achieve.

‘However, if teachers and teacher educators do not differentiate the curriculum products and processes, they will continue to fail to engage new generation students in meaningful, lifelong learning.’ ■

Further information:

Australian Education Review (AER) number 61, Building quality in teaching and teacher education by Professor Nan Bahr and Suzanne Mellor, is available as a free download here. Print copies can be purchased from the ACER shop.

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