There is a surface allure to the idea of offering a six-week teacher training programme to university graduates and then getting them straight into the classroom to learn on the job. Many people who would never have considered teaching because of the extent of the training may be attracted to the profession. More importantly, pupils in low-decile schools, the target of the incentive, stand to benefit from an influx of teachers in subjects such as science that are usually hard to fill. If only it were so simple. Unfortunately, classroom realities mean this is all very likely to be too good to be true.
The fast-track course has been proposed by the University of Auckland and Teach First NZ. If they receive Teachers Council sign-off, they want to recruit their first 20 candidates, who must hold degrees in the subject they will teach, at the end of this year. The graduates would be placed in low-decile schools, especially in South Auckland, or in schools needing teachers in subjects that have shortages.
They would be bonded to their first school for two years and have on-the-job training, after which they would have the status and pay rate of a fully qualified teacher.
Effectively, this means that, in many instances, graduates with very limited training will be dispatched to schools that are the toughest to staff. They will be in environments where more experienced teachers decline to tread. And they will be there without the in-depth training in the likes of educational psychology that the more comprehensive teacher training programmes provide.
A six-week course, no matter how intensive, can teach only so much. If it was considered totally adequate, all training courses would be roughly that length. Obviously, the graduates will rely heavily on their resilience and on-the-job mentoring from other staff, perhaps most notably in behaviour management. It is doubtful that this support will be consistently available.
Experience overseas confirms just how difficult the graduates' task will be. Almost half the first participants in a similar scheme in Australia are no longer teaching after two years. Of the 45 graduates of the first Teach for Australia programme in 2010, two dropped out in the first year, nine have gone into another industry, nine are doing something else in the education field, such as a master's of teaching, and 25 remain in the classroom. This high dropout rate mirrors that of programmes with the same features in the United States, and suggests this is not a cost-effective approach to teacher training.
There is also the question of the pupils entrusted to these graduates. Whatever the level of education, children should be taught well. The highest of standards should be aspired to. Some of those attracted to teaching by the short training period will prove to be excellent teachers. But it is doubtful that the duration of the programme or the circumstances into which they are pitched will give many of the graduates their best prospect of reaching that standard. And if they flounder, so will the learning of the pupils entrusted to them.
More broadly, there is an element to all this that demeans existing teachers and their profession. The insinuation is that anyone can become a teacher after a crash course. In its way, there are similarities to the Foreign Minister Murray McCully's opening of ambassadorial appointments to people other than career diplomats. Anyone, he is saying, can become a diplomat. In the foreign affairs arena, this is a recipe for mishap and misadventure. Sending partly trained teachers into difficult classrooms promises much the same. The teachers will be on a huge learning curve. Their pupils will not.