This week, three of our members share reflections on teacher training across the world. Their varied personal and professional experiences provide insight into how different approaches and reforms to teacher education have been enacted internationally, also exploring the resultant effects at an individual and systemic level.
To begin, Ellen Harrold shares her experiences of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) as a current PGDE student in Scotland, exploring how the use of school-based placements can greatly influence the trainee experience. As a recently qualified teacher, Sophia Yu then highlights the power of in-service training in Shanghai schools, underlining the importance of continuing professional development in order to support newer teachers and foster a whole school professional community. Finally, Istiawan critically reflects on the introduction of Indonesia’s Teacher Certification Programme, considering its impact on teacher motivation and educational quality for both recent recruits and established teachers.
Considering the impact of in-school placements on the trainee experience: reflections from a Scottish PGDE student
By Ellen Harrold
I am currently midway through my initial teacher education (ITE), enrolled on the PGDE Primary course, one of the two main pathways into primary teaching in Scotland. The PGDE course is evenly split between time spent at university - attending lectures and seminars on all areas of the curriculum - and three placements in primary schools (the intention being that a student experiences a different age group on each placement).
From my personal experience of the course, I have found that there is a lack of consistency surrounding the experience of students on placement. Some students find that they are placed in a similar age group for all three placements, and so may enter their probationary year having never experienced the level at which they are expected to teach. Furthermore, the experience can vary hugely depending on a wide number of factors, including the school ethos and working environment, the mentors they are assigned, and the class in which they are placed. There seems to be a lack of knowledge surrounding the model of the PGDE placement in schools, even among mentoring teachers, which has resulted in differing and inconsistent expectations.
My most recent placement has been an extremely positive learning experience within a supportive and professional environment, allowing me to gain confidence in my practice while gaining insight into the many challenges teachers face today. However, it is clear that this is not always the case, and that negative experiences on placement contribute heavily to drop-out rates - PGDE students are currently twice as likely to drop out as postgraduate students overall. In response to this statistic in 2017, the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee published student teacher responses to a questionnaire about their experience of ITE. Many of the responses acknowledge the personal sacrifices that have been made in order to pursue a career in teaching (for example pay cuts and longer working hours for those changing careers), as well as highlighting the (overwhelmingly) high expectations and lack of support many have experienced during their time on placement.
The reasons given for teacher recruitment and retention issues are not unique to Scotland, with some of the most common being heavy workload and a lack of support to deal with challenging behaviour in the classroom. These issues can also contribute to schools being reluctant to accept students, with supervision of a trainee teacher often perceived as additional stress and paperwork. Based on my own experience of PGDE placements and supported by the Education and Skills Committee’s research, the training process for prospective teachers in Scotland could be made more consistent by ensuring closer regulation of mentoring professionals and improved communication between training institutions and placement schools.
Why ITE is not enough: fostering professional communities in Shanghai schools through continuous professional development
By Sophia Yu
At the beginning of each semester, all academic staff in the Shanghai school where I work gather together for five days to collaborate through various discussions and activities. As a recently qualified teacher, this is a particularly useful source of continuous professional development.
The training is divided into four components: Firstly, teachers are allocated to groups according to grade level (e.g. kindergarten, primary, lower secondary, upper secondary) where they discuss general issues facing the whole school. For example, we spent one day designing a ‘good’ formal report, producing a list of core skills and competencies that students should be developing, reviewing the report we wrote last semester and finally developing reporting templates for each teaching grade.
Secondly, teachers from different departments take part in subject-based meetings, where teachers can discuss specific issues facing the department. This might include setting a semester and unit plan, individual lesson plan preparation, development of assessment criteria, designing extra- and cross-curricular activities such as Math Week, and so on.
The third component comprises team building: usually teachers work in their own office or classrooms and rarely have the chance to talk to colleges besides short conversations during lunch time. Games, sports and entertainment activities are used to build relationships between teachers.
Finally, there is additional training for form tutors. This time is used to produce a consistent approach to guiding students back to “learning mode”, plan support for students to set their goals for the new semester and meet with new students in order to explain school and class rules, and so on.
As a new teacher, this training represents an absolutely precious opportunity to get to know many other teachers, and build a sense of belonging in the school. It has helped me to have a deeper understanding of the school philosophy and history, as well as its mission and expectations. For other teachers, even those that have been at the school for years, they are still passionate about the training and offer positive feedback. To ensure the training remains engaging and relevant, each year there are different topics for discussion and the lead teachers rotate frequently to avoid overburdening trainers or disengaging participants. In addition, during the training sessions, teachers still have about 15%-20% “free time” to work on their own priorities, which helps us adjust to a working rhythm after a long break.
In-school teacher training of this kind and scope is not the norm internationally, but it has been vital to my own professional development, particularly as a recently qualified teacher. Most importantly, it helps build a cohesive and coherent professional community within the school and supports more coordinated and higher quality teaching interventions by teachers of all levels of experience.
Do teaching qualifications produce teaching quality? the case of Indonesia’s Teacher Certification Programme
Despite the Indonesian government’s ambitious education quality reform project, the availability, quality and effectiveness of teacher training is more problematic than ever before. While teaching has historically being widely regarded as a stable profession in Indonesia, it is often associated with low pay, limited professional training and is poorly portrayed in local and national print media. This has negatively influenced the perception of teaching as a valid professional endeavour in the country. Despite reform initiatives, teacher drop-out rates reached a peak in 2010 and remain high today. Especially problematically, the highest concentration of teacher drop-out rates are found in rural and remote areas, where a lack of infrastructure and social services already pose problems.
In direct response to this problematic context, the Indonesian government attempted to use ‘attraction mechanisms’ in the form of the Teacher Certification Programme in order to bring young and talented individuals into the teaching workforce. Teachers that advanced through the Teacher Certification Programme received significant salary increases and greater access to other personal resources, including additional qualifications. Unfortunately, privileges of this kind often shift the focus from quality teaching to financial gain and professional progression. In the case of Indonesia, even when such incentives are provided, certified teachers are often absent from schools. Furthermore, teachers in the Certification Programme must teach a minimum of 25 hour per week, forcing them to work in two or more schools in order to meet this requirement and further reducing the quality of service and instruction.
From adoption to implementation, the results of the Teacher Certification Programme have been far from satisfactory. Although the number of candidates applying to the teaching profession increased when the reform first began in 2005, the overall results have been poor. Many candidates were not carefully selected, and training was inadequate, compounding negative outcomes. More recently, there have been some changes made to selection and training procedures, including doing away with the teacher’s portfolio system. Some improvements include more rigorous testing of candidates, which looks into their academic background and previous teaching experiences using computerized teaching-specific competency tests. With continued evaluation, reflection, and adjustments to the policies and implementation processes, the outcomes may yet improve more consistently. Nonetheless, the case of Indonesia serves as a reminder that greater certification does not imply greater quality, unless it is underpinned by effective and meaningful training.
Many thanks to Ellen, Sophia and Istiawan for their contributions to this week's blog. Individual contributors can be contacted via our 'Members' page or you can get in touch with the EPPE Network team at email@example.com.