The right personality for teaching?

Children dwarfed by schools, a wordle of national's education policy

Like many teachers I’m astounded by the National’s Party’s plan to test aspiring teacher’s personality. Is the party’s answer to every problem in education to test students? However the rest of the party’s teacher education policy, behind the more headline-grabbing ideas is well worth an examination.

The first is the party’s plans to make teaching a post-graduate only qualification. At the moment there are two routes into teaching. The 3 year undergraduate degree which a lot of primary school teachers study and the 1 year graduate diploma. Massey University has already jumped the gun and is planning to disestablish the four year direct-entry Bachelor of Education degree. This policy isn’t particularly new. It stems from recommendations made by the Education Workforce Advisory Report which was released in April last year.

Interestingly Singapore also has gone through a process of reviewing teacher education. What struck me about the Singaporean report was that there was a clear vision of what they wanted for their kids and then looked at how teacher education programmes could help teachers to develop their professional capabilities in response to this need.  In contrast the New Zealand version is woeful both in terms of overall vision and the research to back up the report’s recommendations.   .

This makes me think that the move to making teaching a graduate-only qualification has more to do with productivity cost-cutting than any real desire to improve teacher education or elevate the the profession. As the OECD notes in report about the American system

“the best-performing countries are working to move their initial teacher-education programmes towards a model based less on preparing academics and more on preparing professionals in clinical settings, in
which they get into schools earlier, spend more time there and get more and better support in the process.”

So why are cutting back on the very degrees that offer clinical support? Because graduate diplomas are a lot cheaper for universities to run as the students are still at varsity studying for 4 years but the institution don’t have to maintain a large Faculty of Education to support the staffing demands of the Bachelor of Education.

What should concern everyone is that this potential narrowing of the curriculum for our would-be teachers.  As it stands you don’t have time to study a large amount of child psychology, pedagogy  or assessment theory in the 1 year course. Moreover at the primary level  there isn’t much time to plug any gaps a student might have in their content knowledge. Given the breadth of the New Zealand curriculum, particularly at primary level, this is concerning.

But what is more concerning is that party supports putting graduates without any teaching qualifications into classrooms. I’ve already written about Teach First New Zealand a scheme where ‘high achieving’ graduates  will be teaching in the classrooms of ‘low status‘ (their language)  secondary schools after 6 weeks training for a period of two years. National has earmarked $200,000 towards supporting. Not much in the grand scheme of things but we’ll be hearing a lot more about this programme in the coming years.

The scheme is modeled on similar ones in the United States and United Kingdom and it is worth noting that both countries score lower on international student achievement studies than New Zealand. The research into direct-entry teaching schemes shows that teachers coming out of the programmes are less effective in the classroom and leave the profession at higher rates than rates than teachers who go through teacher certification programmes however these gaps close once the teachers become certified.

Nevertheless the introduction of the scheme has been hailed by many players inside and outside the education system.  On first glance it has a nice narrative,  high-achieving graduates who would otherwise be destined for the glass towers of Shortland Street riding into to save poor children for two years under the banner of educational equity. But when you look at the wider picture things come unstuck. There are  hundreds of qualified teachers already looking for work which  begs the question why we need to be placing unqualified teachers in classroom. Moreover the experience overseas shows that the teachers don’t come from the communities they teach and the two year commitment means they necessarily stick around much after their tenure is over. This makes the scheme look at best self-serving  at worst down-right exploitative.

Given the small number of teachers (just 20 a year for the next 5 years) and large amount of private funding that appears to be supporting the initiative Teach First New Zealand, I’m sure the programme will be successful in terms of its stated goal of being an exclusive recruitment programme for recent graduates who will use the scheme as  stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Unfortunately the type of educational leaders that theses schemes spawns are well, kind of evil. They are the type of ‘leaders,’ and I do use the term loosely, who take pleasure in using test scores to label schools as failing and see that as some kind of success rather than their failure to lead. And unfortunately they are the ones Tolley is talking to.

I’m sure detractors would argue I just another lazy teacher looking to avoid any sort of accountability in my job. Let me be clear that the type of accountability measures National are introducing are great if you want conformity and control. But if you after things like engagement and creativity, which is what you want if your goal is to keep kids interested in learning, then these sort of measures actually impede that goal.

There is also a nasty undertone from National that teachers are there primarily to serve the interests of the parents and that value-added incentives are the way to get there. This move is designed to pit parents against teachers and teacher against each other rather than  trying to encourage a partnership so that we can all do the best for the kids (whose voices are almost completely absent from educational policy debates).

Least I be accused of being just another lefty teacher. Not all of National’s policies are bad. Their plans to rejuvenate school buildings are good and I’m cautiously optimistic about the Network for Learning. It’s just a shame that the money they are spending on 21st century buildings and technology will be wasted due to 19th century pedagogy and a smattering of colonial do-goodism thrown in for good measure.

11 thoughts on “The right personality for teaching?

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  1. An interesting post. Just to put my colours to the mast I am a ‘righty’ teacher.

    I have read a summation of National’s policies which I have put below.
    * Require secondary schools to report on wider performance, including school dropout numbers.
    * Bed in National Standards, schools to report results publicly from 2012.
    * Introduce “disposition testing” for new teachers.
    * Make teacher training courses a post-graduate qualification.
    * Review the Teachers’ Council.
    * Change law to allow search and seizure of suspected drugs and weapons.
    * More training for new principals.
    * Spend $1 billion from state asset sales on new schools and buildings.
    * Target funding at schools and teachers underperforming in National Standards.
    * Review regulations for rural school swimming pools.

    Personally there is not one that I dont disagree with and believe they are policies that will enhance our education system.

    With the issue that you have raised I have no problem with teachers being assessed before they get into the classroom. The greatest single improvement that can be made to the education of our student is to get better teachers standing in front of classes. Sadly, the current education system is full of teachers and principals who dont stack up. Personally I would be all for the test to be carried out every 5 years on a teacher.

    As a teacher for 9 years I have had dozens of students through my class. Sadly a number of these students have not been up to a standard that I think they should be up too. Sadly many ‘educational providers’ dont seem to have the balls to tell these people that they will never be good teachers. They would prefer to keep them on board and get the next year of fees out of them.

    In contrast what have Labour come up with in their education policy? 31,000 computer devices for low deciles schools seems a little short sighted in my view. Are they go to do that every 3 years when the devices go bung? What about deciles 4-7 schools are do they have plenty of money floating about. It is a complete election bribe.

    The rest of their policies ( which I have include below) are mumbo jumbo words that wont really help kids learn better.
    -Support and resource schools to use the NZ curriculum so students have the competencies and knowledge needed to thrive in the 21st century; ( what on earth does that mean???)
    -Consolidate the role of school support staff by providing training and working on the viability of centralised funding;
    – Establish parent advocates to work alongside parents to engage with teachers, principals and boards of trustees to ensure their needs are being met; ( can anyone really seeing this programme working???)
    Support better identification and programme adaptation for gifted children;
    – Increase support for the effective implementation of individual plans for students with disabilities;
    – Amend guidelines to ensure all schools have an effective anti-bullying programme and provide external multi-agency support for schools in dealing with these issues;
    -Boost placements for work-ready students through enhanced Gateway.

    while we are looking at policies dont even get me started on the Greens
    – Increase the Operations Grant by 10%. ( do they have a money tree???)
    – Ensure students have the right to not wear a uniform, without penalty from the school. ( why even put forward a policy like this)

    At the very least I believe that Nationals policies, of NS and getting better teachers in front of our kids, is focusing on the right things to improve our education. They might not be totally workable and may not work as anne T promises but at least they are focussed on the two things that will bring about improvement in our schools.

    In saying that I believe Nationals internet Learning Network is the biggest waste of money the government could do.


    1. How do National Standards keep kids interested and engaged in learning? How do fast-track teaching qualifications prepare students to be better teachers when the time spent learning to be a teacher has been cut right back to the bare minimum?


  2. I have never said that NS engage all students in learning and I doubt if anyone in the governemnt has said that too. I currently work in a high decile school and NS act as good a motivator for the students that I deal with as any other technique. However, I have worked in lower decile schools where NS would act in the opposite way. NS are about reporting and assessment and very little to do with engagement.

    I dont see the governments decision as fast tracking teachers, infact it is more of the opposite as teacher will have to have 4 years of training. This will mean that it will require a high standard of education to be a teacher. Surely this is a good thing.

    When I went through Teachers College we were the last year at chch to offer the 4 year B.Ed and we had the choice mid course to opt with the three year option. I stayed with the 4 year option and I feel it was the better move. I got a major in History which effectively means I can teacher History in a high school if I wanted too.
    I cant speak for now but the standard of work I had to produce at Teacher College was far inferior to what I had to produce at University. That is not to say that TColl education was bad but just different.

    Now I dont agree that this system would work for say a year 1 teacher, where very little of what they teach kids is ‘difficult’. Their job is very specialised and I wouldn’t do it for all the tea in China. However, the further you get up the school the better a truly qualified teacher can teach a subject. A person with a music degree and passion for music is going to be able to teach music far better than I. In my school one of the classes in my year has a specialist secondary science teacher who teaches that class science. The work they cover is fantastic and because they are fully qualified in that field they can teacher that subject far better than I ever could.

    i truly believe the better qualified teachers we get in front of our students the better learning will take place.


  3. Engaging students in learning is one of the main issues facing our education system at this time. However, I dont know if this is the PRIMARY role of any party when they are in power.
    Personally I still come back to what I have been saying – the better the teacher the better the education a child gets.

    My questions to you is if you were a policy maker for a political party what policies would you put forward?

    Here are a couple of mine
    1. $500 per teacher per school on top of current ops funding for teacher to take part in PD.
    2. Compulsory 5 days of professional development for every teacher in their current holiday time.
    3. No PD taken within school terms for teaching staff.
    4. Roll out Reading recovery for every school for any age.


    1. If I was a policymaker of a political party I would first be asking what is what out of our education system and then working out how to achieve that vision. Your ideas are good but what’s driving them? What is it that you are trying to achieve?


  4. I agree with Shembanbury that the one of the biggest problems facing education today is terrible teachers. (There’s also the crippling lack of money, but there’s too much of a battle between Right – who think it’s only bad teachers – and the Left – who think it’s only lack of money. It’s both. But I digress…) However, my problem with personality testing propective teachers (other than that psychometric personaility tests have been exhaustively proven to be as accurate and relaible as phrenology) is that it doesn’t address that problem.

    If you want “the test to be carried out every 5 years on a teacher”, I see one problem. I am almost completely socially disfunctional, can’t focus for more than a few seconds, and score remarkably high on almost any recognised test for sociopathy. Also, last night I was given an award for Excellence in teaching in Decile 1 schools. I would fail a personality test because I’m bascially crazy. And I don’t mean crazy in the pretensious I-stole-a-traffic-cone-and-wore-it-on-my-head-one-time-when-I-was-nineteen-and-wore-a-dress-to-my-mates-stag-do-I’m-craaaazy way, I mean crazy in the scared-to-leave-the-house-have-panic-attacks-when-the-phone-rings sad and depressing sort of crazy.

    That having been said, I’m a spectacular teacher. Says so right on the certificate I got yesterday. (And, as an aisde, as I’ve been typing this, I’ve also been reading a message from an ex-student – can’t focus on one thing, remember? – who I had only tangential dealings with several years ago, who has sung my praises to an embarassing level, and has decided I’m the person to talk to about certain issues in her life now because I was always so supportive and helpful. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that I must be doing something right, even though on paper, I shouldn’t be alowed within stabbing distance of impressionable minds…)

    If I was given a personality test to see if I had the right “disposition” I would fail. I can think of people who would pass – people who all got English and History and Art History degrees because, well, because, uh… Oh crap, I’m as unemployable as I was when I was 18, better become a teacher. But because they know to list their hobby as ‘social-grade rugby’ instead of ‘rocking back and forth pulling out my own hair and the hair of others’, they’ll fly through a personality test.

    I’m using a somewhat extreme (and remarkably wordy) example, but my point stands, which is: what is the ‘right’ personality for teaching? Some of the best teachers I’ve known have been three snadwiches short of a picnic. Now, of course, some of the best have also been completely well adjusted normal people. And some of the weirdoes have been blindingly awful teachers. Which all goes to prove my point – you can’t tell if someone will be a good or bad teacher just because they check the ‘correct’ boxes on a test chosen by someone in an office who knows nothing about schools (or Anne Tolley – but I repeat myself…).


    1. Your long-winded rant got to the problem with national standards and personality tests, we keep trying to standardize something that should becoming more personalized, teaching and learning.


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