Various degrees of teaching

Teachers play a significant role in the development of young people, some of it good, some of it bad.

Successive governments in New Zealand have changed education policy and standards for as long as democracy has been in action. Nothing, it seems, passes the consistency test from one government to another. And that is a problem.

Earlier this year, New Zealanders were told about an acute teacher shortage, particularly in Auckland, but also across other parts of the country.

The Auckland shortage was put down to increased housing costs in the country's largest city.

It is generally understood secondary school teachers earn about $48,000 in their first year and then progress to a maximum of about $72,000 after seven years. School principals earn between $78,000 and $148,000 a year - not insignificant amounts. Rates vary for other teaching levels.

As soon as the problem of a teacher shortage was identified, unemployed teachers disputed the claims, saying they had applied for jobs in Auckland but schools were not hiring.

Now, the trend appears to be specialists in such subjects as maths and science are being hired as teachers without having a teacher qualification.

In what must be one of the last acts of Education Minister Hekia Parata, she is backing a shift to make would-be teachers complete a degree in their chosen subject as well as a post-graduate qualification in teaching.

Ms Parata says teaching has one of the lowest barriers to entry of any profession. Her comments are supported by Labour.

The change is opposed by the secondary school teachers' union, the PPTA, which fears it could worsen the teacher supply issue.

Ms Parata, who will likely leave the education portfolio next month and retire from Parliament, says the Government has no official position but she personally sees benefits in shifting teacher training to the post-graduate level.

The Education Council is moving towards a position that all people wanting to become teachers - in early childhood, primary and secondary - should be required to have a bachelor-level degree, as well as a post-graduate level qualification in teaching.

One thing inherent in the success of any teacher is the ability to communicate with pupils of all ages. A teacher can be the brightest and smartest person in the room, but without being able to change the motivation of pupils to believe it is in their best interest to learn, success will remain elusive.

A degree in a subject is a good thing, but there are concerns a post-graduate degree will lead to qualification inflation, where teaching methods are secondary to a list of letters after a name.

At an early childhood level, the most important qualification is understanding human behaviour and development, rather than content. How the youngest in the education system develop has a life-long effect on their lives, as the longitudinal study run in Dunedin continues to show.

The Education Council is moving towards a view of all teaching training in the future being at a post-graduate level. This goes back to the core purpose of the council, to raise the status of the profession.

There are much wider social implications to the issue of ongoing development for teaching, something degrees cannot hope to solve. Filling vacancies in Auckland, if in fact they do exist, means solving a housing shortage. Persuading teachers to move to rural locations, without the wide support of their peers, can be difficult to achieve.

Cities, like Dunedin, are understandably considered a desirable teaching location because of lower costs and a more stable population. Not having enough male teachers is also a social issue needing to be addressed, and not all of it comes down to pay rates.

Having a degree convinces employers the person has the ability to learn, understand and adapt - all important traits for teachers. However, the ability to literally teach a subject must be the most important consideration.

Surely any post-graduate teaching degree must concentrate on applying the valuable skills of motivation and communication.


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