Weekly reflection: is the 1 year graduate programme enough to teach?

Just a small selection of reading materials for graduate diploma. (Photo by author)

AKA as the first week freak out.

For some reason I thought having gotten through the first half of my course I’d be feeling a bit better about semester 2. That happy feeling lasted until I cracked the spine on my course outlines for this semester and went ZOMG how am I ever going to learn all that?

Alongside a Maori Educational philosophy and practice paper, I have one paper in which Social Science, Science and Technology are jammed together and another in which The Arts (visual, performing and music), Health & PE and Language Learning are shoehorned in to give the would-be teachers in my course exposure to all the learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Zoiks.

What was it Piaget said about learning?

We go through a period of cognitive conflict as we assimilate and accommodate new information into existing schema.

So that explains the headache.

But can you really learn to be a teacher in a year?

I’m probably unusual in I majored in education as part of a liberal arts programme during my undergraduate degree so obviously there is some significant crossover in what I’m studying now and what I studied the first time around (even if it was 10+ years ago). A lot of my education papers were filled with people who were gaining a teaching qualification (as opposed to people like me who took education papers because they weren’t sure what they wanted to do when they grew up). So my experience in the diploma is perhaps atypical given that I already have a reasonable grounding in educational psychology and philosophy with Special Education and IT and Education papers thrown in for good measure.

Nevertheless the condensed nature of the course means that I’m going to have to rely a lot on general content and pedagogical knowledge to be able to fill gaps in some subject areas. There is no way I will get up to speed on the ins and outs of teaching science/social science/the arts/technology/health& PE  to primary school children in a semester. In fact I had to go back and check that I had covered the six learning areas for the semester and realized I had left off language learning. Doh!  This makes me think that the duration of the graduate diploma programme just isn’t sufficient to cover everything that we need to learn about teaching all the curriculum areas we are supposed to be teaching by the time the end of the course rolls by.

But in my experience the best way to learn how to be a teacher is by getting out into the classroom and learning from other teachers. During my courses I will have two Teaching Experiences of 7 weeks of which a minimum should be 4 weeks of full control of planning, teaching and evaluating lessons. I’ve already got 3 weeks under my belt from my first TE and even if I do the bare minimum of 3 weeks this time around, I’ll end up with 6 weeks of teaching which really doesn’t seem like all that much in the grand scheme of things. Which is where the induction process for Provisionally Registered Teachers comes in.

Our system doesn’t expect Beginning Teachers to know everything despite having that nice piece of paper saying we are qualified to teach. That process already tells me that I will need to be prepared for a steep learning curve the next few years which will likely flatten out somewhat when I find my feet. However I imagine teaching really isn’t different from any other profession in that the minute you stop learning you are already falling behind. But do diploma teachers have a steeper learning curve than graduates coming in with a three-year education degree?

I suppose it depends what else we bring in with us.

This week my Social Science lecturer joked that one of the duties of my last job, to draft responses to primary students who wrote in protesting *ahem* the southern ocean activities of a fishing fleet from certain country in Asia, *cough* was one of the 10 top jobs cut out for future Social Science teaching. Certainly taking a whole bunch of humanities-type papers has been useful for developing a reflective framework and conceptual understanding of education within a broader context. I also thank my lucky stars that I had enough sense as a teenager to take a reasonably broad range of subjects in school like physics, music and maths right up until year 13 and kept learning after I graduated university in the form of a new language, sports and hobbies. What can I say? I’m nerd.

But does that make me a better classroom teacher?

Probably not, but it doesn’t necessarily make me worse either.

Maybe diversity in the workplace is a good thing.

Thinking back on my first education papers what made them so stimulating was the diverse nature of the student body. School leavers like me got to interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds who were entering or re-entering university after many years or decades away from formal study. This time around, there are only a few students in my course who have just finished university however there is still an extremely diverse student body. There’s a couple of lawyers, a vet, people who’ve run their own businesses, some are ex army, there’s a number with science backgrounds, a few more who are ex hospitality. A lot of students are parents and there are many that have worked overseas. We are a well-travelled bunch!

As teachers were are told that we need to celebrate the different gifts that our students bring to our classrooms but we should also be doing the same of our would-be teachers. Whether they are a fresh young thing out of university waving a graduate diploma, an older person retraining in the degree or anyone in between they all have the potential to make an excellent contribution to teaching. Our students benefit from the multiple perspectives and talents we bring to their lives.

So maybe for some 1 year is enough to get us started.

Hopefully it will be for me.

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5 thoughts on “Weekly reflection: is the 1 year graduate programme enough to teach?

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  1. Spot on! I remember my driving instructor saying that now I was ready to start learning to drive *after* I passed my test. Also met a wonderful teacher just about to retire after a long career. When I asked her how she had managed to maintain her obvious enthusiasm when others can wane, she said that it was.because she had learnt something new every day.

    You could never teach everything needed to learn to teach in one year (or even four) but hopefully seeds are planted which will grow and bear fruit later. Teachers like their pupils need to develop independent learning skills in this new area of specialism. Those that are not successful have never managed this leap, in my opinion. Those that have are a great source of support to others and are worth seeking out in the staffroom.

    Loved your post and think it sounds like you’ve made this connection already. I remember halfway through my training thinking that my teaching was getting worse as I became more aware of what good teaching should look like! It is daunting when you realise how much there is to learn but be reassured that you have a whole career in which to do so. Enjoy!

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    1. Hi Cat,
      Thank you so much for your comment. Perhaps admitting that teacher education is the first step in a life time of learning is the first step becoming a real teacher?

      Regards,

      Stephanie

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  2. Never a truer word was spoken and good for you to have 3 weeks under your belt already, I just have the one week and am moving from new entrants to Year 5/6.
    Course wise there is a bit of aggro about the volume of information, feels as if all these subjects are compressing the 6 weeks into 2 and the introduction made me feel a bit overwhelmed this semester….. just keep on swimming so you don’t drown.

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    1. I was very, very fortunate to have a really great associate teacher for my first placement who let me have free reign over her classes (because it was a specialist subject intermediate school) for three weeks.

      But yes you are right it seems that stuff has been compressed but really you just got to keep on trucking because this is your taste of what happens in the real world!

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