Julia Gillard wants to make us famous

“TONY EASTLEY: So if I interview you in 12 months time from today, you’ll be able to tell me that some of these problems, a lot of these problems have been alleviated and we’re around these problems of deficiencies in teacher expertise?

JULIA GILLARD: If you interview me in 12 months time, Tony, I’ll be able to go through with you each of the schools that’s got extra resources under our disadvantaged schools program where we’re making a difference. I’ll be able to give you the names of our Teach for Australia graduates who are out there teaching in schools. I’ll be able to tell you about how many students have gone into maths and science teaching induced to do so by our program to halve their HECS.”

via Julia Gillard – Radio Interview ABC.

Jokes aside though, I think this illustrates the stakes of this little experiment we’re a part of in Teach for Australia. This program has got national visibility, and while the Teach for Australia staff and the schools we go into will be doing everything they can to support us – there is still a definite sense that the success or failure of this program ultimately rests in the hands of the associates on the ground.

Teach for Australia Associates’ Blog

For those of you following along at home: you could well be interested that the Teach for Australia associates now have our own group blog. So if you’re an associate, interested in the Teach for Australia program, or just looking for more whimsical insights into what kind of whack jobs would give up perfectly good careers to get into teaching: make sure you pop on over for a quick read.


Teach for Australia in the media

Teach for Australia has been getting quite a bit of media attention recently, and while lots of it reads like a TFA press release, with a token comment from the education union for balance; there has been a couple of things worth highlighting.

I found the Canberra Times article a little amusing. Not only is the sub-editor missing any sense of headline brevity, but they still have the small-town mindset that requires that any Canberra-based influence on a story to be the primary focus:

“Can you learn to be a teacher in just six weeks? Australian National University students Emlyn Cruickshank and Lia van den Bosch think so. But they also readily agree it will be a huge challenge. They are the first two Canberrans to be accepted into the Rudd Government’s Teach for Australia program.” – Program puts pressure on to learn to be teachers in just six weeks – The Canberra Times

But from a more intellectually stimulating point of view, the debate held on Radio National’s “Life Matters” program was very interesting indeed. The discussion puts Professor David Berliner, an academic who has just published a significant study on the sister “Teach for America” program in the states, against Professor Field Rickards, Dean of Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education. The University of Melbourne will be training Teach for Australia associates. In the debate Berliner outlined some big areas of concern for the Teach for America program, particularly in the area of teacher support once in the classroom, while Rickards talked about the changes Teach for Australia had undergone in order to address some of those issues. It’s an interesting discussion, and a pertinent reminder that this whole program really is a bit of an experiment. Guinea piggery here we come.

The “Teach for Australia” program

Teach for Australia
Teach for Australia

The paths to becoming a secondary teacher in Australia are well-worn and familiar. Either you complete an Education Bachelor degree, with majors in your specialist areas; or you complete a degree in your chosen field(s) and then (at some stage) put yourself through the one year (or two years part time) of a Graduate Diploma in Education. Then you get to teach. Simple really.

I haven’t signed up for a traditional Graduate Diploma program. Instead, I’m part of the inaugural intake of a program called “Teach for Australia“: an initiative to “improve student outcomes in areas of educational disadvantage by attracting and supporting graduates to teach in disadvantaged schools for two years.” (“Our approach – Teach for Australia“) Teach for Australia is modeled on the “Teach for America” and “Teach First” programs in the USA and UK respectively, where they have been running for some time.  So instead of finding a way to scrape through part-time study and some semblance of full-time work: I’ll instead be involved in quite a different approach to how teachers are trained and equipped.

Starting in late November and running up until school is almost ready to start, I’ll be at the Teach for Australia “Academy”: the six week training program (no, my maths isn’t that bad – there’s a break over Christmas) run by the University of Melbourne. It’ll be living on campus (which my wife isn’t as excited about) and fully catered with a “living allowance” (which my wife is more pleased with). This will be pretty intense training as far as I can tell, and will form the bulk of the theoretical component of the eventual graduate diploma. Apparently there will be some ongoing education throughout the next two years, but it is unclear exactly what form that will take.

Starting in Term 1 next year, I’ll commence teaching an 80% load in an “educationally disadvantaged” school in Victoria. At this stage I’m not even certain where that will be, though we have been able to enter preferences for which general area of the state we would like to teach in. The Teach for Australia placement represents a two year commitment: with the understanding that there is significant support and ongoing training and development.

While there has been some controversy over the introduction of such a different teacher-training model, most teachers I’ve spoken with about the approach have tended to be fairly positive: pointing out that the vast majority of learning to become a teacher happens in your first year rather than during the degree. But I guess only time will tell, but one thing is for certain. The next two years will be quite an adventure!