Josh Cauchi is a teacher in NSW. Outside of the classroom he is passionate about educating other teachers on the accreditation process.
When we complete our teacher education and start working, often it can feel isolating. No matter the environment within your faculty or the attitudes of your students, the nature of beginning your teaching career is that you are starting out from scratch. Your knowledge of the subject might be academically well-developed, but you will quickly find that academic knowledge only gets you so far. The emerging wisdom of being a teacher is that while you might know a lot of stuff, how you get the students to pick up on it and consequentially apply it to their schoolwork or even later in their lives, requires a bit more effort.
This is the normal experience of every teacher in the world. No one expects you to master everything as soon as you complete your formal education. There is a period where you are as much a student as those in your charge, learning and adapting to the job. However, as most Graduate Teachers would know, you are more likely to take on casual work and hop between schools during this period of time. Different classrooms, schools, even communities all approach ‘learning’ in unique ways, and you must walk into the job adjusting to these variations each day. This may sound like more hurdles for you to achieve Proficiency, but on the bright side, one thing will always remain consistent: the standards we as teachers are evaluated against.
The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) Teaching Standards were developed from different state and national frameworks, with the aim to empower teachers to create better education outcomes for Australian children. The teaching standards came after extensive consultation with stakeholders in the community, teachers, principals, and policy makers across the country. The notion of setting such standards was simple: from getting a tertiary degree in education to standing in their own classrooms with confidence, this set of standards existed to provide guidance to teachers and their professional conduct in the field.
A plain reading of the seven teaching standards seems to be logical and make sense:
- It’s reasonable to expect that teachers know who their students are and how they learn. The uniqueness of each student requires us to think about how they can access their learning.
- We take in good faith that teachers know the content they are teaching and how to go about teaching it. With this comes an accepted wisdom that knowledge is changing all the time, and we must change with it.
- We know that how to teach content requires extensive planning, and we dedicate lots of time (sometimes even after hours and during holidays) doing just that.
- Research is consistent that students learn when they feel safe and supported, and we witness it in our own classrooms each day, so we account for that in our teaching.
- Assessments and testing of the education our students are receiving is a practical method to determine achievement. Achievements change with different students at different levels of learning, and these in turn assist with planning for them to succeed.
- We recognise that the pedagogy changes with new research and should find ways to fold that into our own practice. What works today could always be improved tomorrow.
- And lastly, we are aware that we are not just engaging with students, but their families and communities beyond the classroom, and thus should be ethical, moral, and legal in all our actions. We cannot teach if a student doesn’t trust that we have their best interest in mind. Without that reciprocal trust between teacher and student, effective learning cannot happen.
So, if we agree on all seven standards, and we often find that they are part of our daily work, even as a new graduate, then why do some of us find the AITSL standards so overwhelming?
A general consensus is that the teaching standards add to the sense of insecurity teachers may feel when starting out. After graduation, you hope to find and keep a job, but only to realise that you will soon be critically evaluated against a set of national standards to see if you are suitable for the job. This may sound like a ‘probation’ in other workplaces, but it is in fact quite different. The consequence of failing is not that you may find a similar job in another company, but to lose the accreditation to keep teaching as your profession. It can feel like the sword of Damocles sometimes: a sword above your head, held only by a string.
Despite the sense of insecurity, you are not alone. One of the unique things about being a teacher is that your journey is not as isolated as you might expect. You may have joined some cohorts online where new teachers share experience and provide each other with advice (hence why you are reading this blog post). But another good way to gain deeper understanding of these standards and improve your teaching practice, is to take the time and speak to the other teachers at your school.
What happens when you start those conversations with your fellow teachers at school? Your teaching practice changes with the observation of other teachers performing the job. You’ll begin to engage with students authentically by happenstance, usually because an off-the-cuff discussion with another teacher hands you a vital clue to their learning needs. Conversations with other teachers about the job begin to impact your practice, often positively and with surprising outcomes.
When we talk about professional relationships, this is often crucial to your success as a teacher. We lean on each other in times of frustration with the teaching content, or resources, or students who are disengaging. We celebrate each other’s successes, and we encourage each other to try and take on the next big idea for your classes. This sense of encouragement and inclusiveness isn’t really covered in the seven standards, but engaging with other teachers is definitely beneficial for weaving the standards into your teaching practice.
The teaching standards by itself is a lifeless document; we are the ones that bring an eclectic, unique spark to it by referring to it as a starting point before branching out to make it uniquely our own.
Therefore, it’s important to recognise that the isolation you might be feeling when encountering the teaching standards, whether as a graduate or when it comes time to complete your proficient report, is not permanent or necessary. The discussions you will have with others will illuminate and guide your understanding of the descriptors and how they practically work. The teaching standards become less about the minute detail of what they are asking teachers to do, and more about your own reflection of your choices, actions, and outcomes on your teaching journey.