I went to school in an era when teachers with no formal training were allowed to teach in NSW classrooms. I chose teaching as a career, strongly influenced by two of these untrained teachers. Each was eccentric, passionate about their subjects, the teacher we wanted to spend our lunch hours discussing with the issues and problems of the world. I loved their classrooms. But they wouldn’t be hired these days.
I guess it’s not surprising that we are hearing that NSW school teachers are soon to experience a wave of revised teacher-hiring processes introduced by the state government. Our world has moved on and now we have essential skills and outcomes that didn’t exist when I was at school. To some extent, there is a different type of teacher needed in our schools.
It seems extraordinary to me that it is a conservative government that is promoting this NSW revolution in schooling. The new Lindfield Learning Village was a taste of what was to come. This recent announcement on teacher hiring standards ices the cake.
Education Minister Rob Stokes announced NSW will impose additional and more diverse expectations on teachers wanting to teach in government schools. One should anticipate a flow on to the private and Catholic sectors.
The new priorities will continue to include academic standards and add in an assessment of competencies, including emotional intelligence, measured through interview and psychometric tests. The welcome changes acknowledge the new world needs of today’s teachers preparing young people for an uncertain social and employment community.
A 2018 OECD Report, Valuing our Teachers and Raising their Status, highlights the importance of new teaching priorities. It emphasises the importance of teachers and schools forging closer links with parents and local communities, building a sense of social responsibility and problem-solving skills among their students. The report concludes: "It means teachers need to adopt effective and individualised pedagogies that foster student learning and nurture their social and emotional skills."
The old industrial model classroom that I knew as a student must be relegated to history. It’s amazing that it has persevered for so long.
Many of the 21st century skills needed by our young people didn’t exist in earlier times. They need skills and competencies that suit them for active engagement in the knowledge economies.
Knowledge management skills are essential and will be tested in the new teacher hiring process.
The skills assessed by the Programme for International Student Assessment will influence teacher selection. PISA works with three types of literacy – reading, mathematics and scientific literacy where scientific literacy is defined as the capacity to use scientific knowledge, identify scientific questions and draw evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity.
The great fear I know I share with many colleagues is that with all this important standardising of teacher qualities, we lose the enormous benefits that can come with the brilliant, the eccentric, the odd teacher. I’m sure many of you know what I mean: That teacher we want at our reunions, the one who we remember when we tell the funny story about "our old school days". I suspect they might be increasingly difficult to locate.
I hope there will always be a place for the teacher who doesn’t fit inside the box.
Dr William McKeith is a former school principal and managing director of Schools Active Worldwide.