This evaluation provided an opportunity to give voice to leaders and NGTs about how prepared and confident new teachers are when entering the workforce. ERO’s findings highlight the importance of making sure theoretical learning aligns with the practical experience that occurs on practicum and on entry to teaching, and that NGTs are well prepared in key aspects of teaching practice.
Regular student teacher placement or practicum over the course of a teacher education programme is critical to gaining the practical skills required in becoming an effective teacher. Our findings indicated that practicum experiences had been mixed for many of the NGTs we talked with, with many reporting a lack of alignment between programme content and what the pre-service teacher was exposed to or experienced during their school and early learning placement.
As we have indicated in our recommendations there is a need for closer partnership between initial teacher education providers and the schools and early learning services involved with student practicum/placement. The selection of placements and supervising or associate teachers should be done with the explicit intent of facilitating skill development for the student teacher. This partnership needs to be deliberate and focussed on the integration of conceptual theoretical elements of the programme with real life opportunities for the student teacher to observe, apply and reflect on the application of what they are covering through their pre-service programme. Early learning services and schools that take on this role should be those which have a strong professional learning culture.
NGTs told ERO it was useful to have practicum opportunities across a variety of contexts during their ITE, in order to better understand the diversity of learners. However we found that practicum experiences did not always enable student teachers to put theory into practice and build their confidence in a variety of different contexts. NGTs also identified gaps in their learning in relation to key aspects of teaching practice. ERO is particularly concerned that assessment literacy, and the use of assessment information to plan, improve and evaluate practice needed strengthening for NGTs in both early learning services and schools.
Associate or supervising teachers have a major part to play in the placement experience and learning of student and newly graduated teachers. In this, associate or supervising teachers should be aware of the importance and commitment of taking on such a role. They should equally have sufficient training and support from the pre-service programme provider to ensure that they can successfully guide, mentor, coach and assess the student teacher while they are present in their school, centre and classroom. They need to be able to model quality practice and translate for the student the rationale and intent of their own teaching strategies and approaches.
It is important that associate teachers create opportunities that allow the student teacher to experiment, adapt and improve on their practice, allowing the student teacher to build their confidence through gradually increasing their level of autonomy and independence. Critical to this is being clear from the outset of the intentions and expectations that the student teacher is pursuing in a lesson or learner engagement, having strong observational skills, providing timely and regular feedback to the student teacher and modelling specific practice which the student teacher is attempting to develop. Assisting the student teacher and NGT to make sense of what they are seeing, and how they are impacting learner outcomes are core to the role of the associate or supervising teacher.
Associate teachers have a responsibility to introduce the student teacher to the school community and to their teacher colleagues, ensuring that they are included as an important member of the school, syndicate or service’s professional learning community. They also have a role in facilitating opportunities for student teacher to seek advice, to observe and reflect on teaching practices from across the school or service. Such reflective practice includes the skills to share and analyse their own and others’ practice, inquiry, team teaching approaches, and a collective responsibility in increasingly diverse contexts.
The current variability of NGT’s confidence and preparedness as they begin their teaching career means the extent and nature of support they need to reach full certification must also be differentiated, to compensate for such variation. NGTs require ongoing focused guidance and mentoring from leaders and teachers, critically in relation to assessment for learning, responding to diverse learners, and working collaboratively with parents and whānau.
The difficulty experienced by NGTs in gaining initial permanent employment and the use of fixed‑term contracts for NGTs further reduces opportunities for these teachers to be well supported as they enter the profession. ERO found that the mentoring and guidance needed to enable completion of full certification requirements is often not available when NGTs are not appointed to permanent positions, or when the conditions in a school or service preclude active consideration of their learning needs. NGTs need not only the skills, but confidence, through both their ITE programme and PCT phase, to fully participate in a community of professional learning. This is not the role of ITE providers alone; increased responsibility and support for NGTs is needed in early learning services and schools.
Associate or supervising teachers and leaders should look to the experience as an opportunity to learn and grow in their own practice and leadership. To engage with teacher educators, students and NGTs about new pedagogical thinking, to develop or build on mentoring and coaching skills and to continue to reflect on their own practice and its impact on learning.