I welcome Alwyn Poole's interest on improving access to secondary teaching (Unpaid training contributes to teacher shortage). We need to maximise the number of graduates who see secondary teaching as valuable and rewarding work. Having spent more than 40 years of my life connected to teaching, including 14 years as a secondary teacher, I understand the long-term impact for good that great teachers can have on the well-being and life chances of young people.

But the solutions to improving access need to be based on more than personal anecdote and partial information.

Sam Oldham: Putting graduates straight into classrooms does not always work

Alywn claims "New Zealand desperately needs direct and paid pathway into teaching". We have had one of these for five years through a partnership between the University of Auckland and Teach First NZ that has graduated more than 70 teachers. Although the university is no longer a partner in the programme, Teach First NZ is continuing and has recruited strongly for 2018.

But this is not the sort of supply solution Alwyn seems to envisage. As he correctly notes such programmes, which place graduates immediately into classrooms, need to be supported by a rigorous selection process. More than 25 years' experience in teacher education tells me that only a small proportion of graduates are suited to immediate classroom teaching. Most, like me when I trained, need time to develop their teaching knowledge and skills prior to taking on full classroom responsibility.


Which brings me to the second flaw in Alwyn's argument. He claims that having spent 17 years in the education system, graduates know a thing or two about learning and about what makes a good teacher. They do. But what they know is what made a good teacher for them and for people like them. Teachers need to know what makes a good teacher for each student, and especially for students who are not like them.

They need to understand, therefore, the range of teaching options that are available to them and what the research and theoretical evidence suggests is mostly likely to reach each student.

By commenting disparagingly on his own experience in teacher education, Alwyn unwittingly illustrates the flaw in learning to teach based on your experience of teaching. He condemns teacher education on the basis of his experience without any consideration that others may have had a different experience.

Once again, my experience tells me that while we could always do better in teacher education, and while undoubtedly some share Alwyn's experience, there are large numbers of graduates of initial teacher education programmes who have learned a great deal from their lecturers and who value the contribution those lecturers have made to their induction into teaching.

I have written this opinion piece with some reluctance. The solutions to teacher supply and to raising the status of teaching are not helped by adopting binary positions that set off one part of the system against the other. In fact we need a collaborative, system-wide solution to the problem – teachers, schools, teacher educators, researchers and policy makers working together. So, it is not my aim in responding to Alwyn to be defensive or dismissive. His suggestions may well contribute to the solution – and in one case already are. I just wish he had been more accurate and collegial.

*Professor Graeme Aitken is the Dean of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland.