The Summary Execution of Initial Teachers

This one is way, way old. But still, we felt something we should write something.

Early last year, Alan Tudge – remember him? – launched a review into Initial Teacher Education.We also wrote about the review, here. The final report was released early year, as we announced here. We had no time then to carefully read the Report, although some commenters had things to say. We’ve since read the report pretty thoroughly. It was thrilling, a real page-turner.

The easiest approach to writing on the thing is to critique the Executive Summary or, what amounts to the same thing, the “Report on a Page“. So, we’ll list the Seventeen recommendations made by the Report, and make short comments as seems appropriate. That will be plenty, and probably too much.

Recommendation 1: Raise the status of teaching

Yes, it wouldn’t hurt. The Report’s ideas, however, extend to little more than pointing at Eddie Woo and saying “Don’t you want to be like him?” A properly high status of teaching can only come from a general culture of learning and discipline. Good luck with that.

Recommendation 2: Attract high-quality candidates

See Recommendation 1.

Recommendation 3. Reduce teachers’ workloads

This is better, with the Report pretty much directly saying “cut out the red tape crap”. It won’t happen, because the state organisations such as VCAA and VIT, which are the major source of the red tape, are only in the business of covering their asses. But the Report is at least short and to the point.

Recommendation 4: Improve career advice

Next.

Recommendation 5: Better recognise prior learning of high-quality, mid-career changers

This is one of the major screw-ups of the Report, where the “Expert Panel” simply chickened out. As part of its discussion on “pathways’ to becoming a teacher, the Report commented on the current requirement to complete a 2 year Masters (p 33):

The Expert Panel has carefully considered the views of all stakeholders on the requirement to undertake a two-year postgraduate program. There is no consensus among stakeholders on whether the two-year requirement should remain or be reduced to a one-year Graduate Diploma.

Meaning what? That the “stakeholders” who currently make their living selling two years of garbage didn’t agree to the ceasing of this scam? Funny that. True, the Report didn’t entirely rule out a change, and the elaboration of Recommendation 5 suggests,

Consider amending the Accreditation of Initial Teacher Education Programs in Australia: Standards and Procedures to reinstate the Graduate Diploma for highly qualified candidates.

“Consider”. Idiots.

Recommendation 6: Accelerate high quality candidates into teaching

Sure. Whatever. It’s not the main game. See Recommendation 5.

Recommendation 7: Strengthen initial teacher education (ITE) programs to deliver confident, effective, classroom-ready graduates

Don’t be ridiculous. No first-day teacher is “classroom ready”. The elaboration of Recommendation 7 makes clear that the “Expert Panel” doesn’t even understand what might help:

Amend the Accreditation of Initial Teacher Education Programs in Australia: Standards and Procedures … to ensure ITE graduates are taught sufficient evidence-based practices to meet the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and empower them with the tools to lead a classroom …

A good rule of thumb is that when someone writes “empower” or “evidence-based”, they are writing nonsense. The particular nonsense in this case is the reference to the APST: these standards are obscene in their perverting effect. The elaboration of this Recommendation also contains a peculiarly specific dot point:

teaching reading, including phonemic awareness and phonics as an essential element of the teaching of reading in the early years

You don’t like whole word learning and its kin? Fine. But if you’re going to instruct ITE providers to stop specific stupidities, we can give you a long, long list.

Recommendation 8: Reward good performance

Sure. Who gets to define “good”? Oh right: you elaborate with “evidence-based”. Twice.

Recommendation 9: Support families and carers to engage with teachers

See Recommendation 4.

Recommendation 10: Strengthen national standard setting and moderation of Teaching Performance Assessments (TPAs)

This sounds bad, in the same way the APST is bad. The capsule description of the University of Newcastle’s TPA (p 55), which the Report appears to quote approvingly, makes it sound very bad:

To evaluate the classroom readiness component, the NTPA includes a lesson observation coded by a trained tertiary supervisor using the 1-to-5 coding system for the 18 elements of the Quality Teaching Model.

Eighteen elements of quality teaching. Why stop? Why not fifty?

Recommendation 11: Require earlier identification of suitability to teach

By whom? Again, the Report elaborates with “empower”, this time with a recommendation:

requiring the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) be passed by the end of the first year of study

ACER’s numeracy test is pointless and stupid and nasty.

Recommendation 12: Promote reform through the next National School Reform Agreement

Just junk. Again with the “evidence-based”. Again with ACER’s idiotic test.

Recommendation 13: Require transparency of initial teacher education (ITE) academic staff with recent teaching experience

Another headline screw-up. The idea is to be “bridging the gap between theory and practical experience”, to have current teachers more involved in ITE, so it is not simply left to those Whatever They Ares in the Education faculties (pp 64-66). So,

Classroom teachers can use their practical experience to ensure higher education providers are up to date with current practices and higher education providers can share research and theory to assist classroom teachers strengthen their teaching.

Yep, nothing wrong with “current practices”, and the “research and theory” will work wonders. It is recommendations such as this that make clear the Expert Panel have no idea what is fundamentally wrong with modern education, or how wrong it is, or how it got that wrong.

Recommendation 14: Establish a Centre for Excellence to teach, research and evaluate best teaching practice

Staffed by whom?

Recommendation 15: Strengthen the link between performance and funding of initial teacher education (ITE)

This at least suggests that ITE providers should be accountable for the swill they provide, but the devil is in the lack of detail. The elaboration of the Recommendation suggests:

developing a quality measure for ITE courses that enables performance-based assessments of ITE programs and assists in student choice

rewarding those providers who score highly on the measure

Show us the “measure”. Then we’ll chat.

Recommendation 16. Develop national guidelines for mentors

See Recommendation 15.

Recommendation 17: Develop a national approach to understanding teacher workforce supply and demand

A perfect, Yeah Whatever way to end.

93 Replies to “The Summary Execution of Initial Teachers”

  1. When I saw some of the names on the ‘Expert Panel’, I expected exactly this sort of vacuous ‘Report’. In my opinion, what some of those self-serving names know about improving initial teacher training could be written on the back of the Bolivar 10c green stamp. Marty knows exactly what (and why) I think about at least one of those so-called ‘experts’.

  2. I think it’s interesting that they say raise the status of teaching, not raise the status of teachers.
    The focus on initial teacher education and on attracting better people to the profession plays very well into the narrative that current teachers are inadequate and that they are the problem. They’re still running teachers down while saying they are trying to raise the status of teaching.

      1. Yes. You can’t raise the status of a profession without raising the status of the people doing the profession. It seems like only one of those things is palatable to the people writing this report? (Perhaps this is because the school system is very hierarchical and people are attached to the hierarchy.) Maybe they imagine they will respect and esteem teachers once they have ticked off their checklist of requirements. I think current teachers deserve respect.

        1. Why do current teachers deserve respect? Because they are doing a good job? Because they are trying to do a good job? Because they want to do a good job, and they would try to do a good job if given the opportunity to do so? Because, even though they are constantly screwed over, they haven’t become mass murderers? Simply because they are human?

          1. Let’s go back into lock-down. But no remote learning. Parents can home-school their kids. Indefinitely.

            That’s how you develop a definition of respect.

            (By the way, let’s define respect this way for nurses, police and first responders as well).

            The public has a short memory.

  3. I’ve commented elsewhere and have little new to add. But I’ll make two observations:

    Page 37: “The appointment of a nationally recognised patron of education to advocate for teachers and promote the profession”

    Seriously?? That’s the plan?

    Re: “Recommendation 8: Reward good performance”.

    Yep, looks great on paper. How can you argue against it? But as Marty already asked, who gets to define good? How do you even define or measure good? How do you account for teaching being a collegiate profession? – one teacher’s ‘good’ teaching is usually built upon the previous work and efforts of others. Do those others get rewarded too? And what’s the reward? All too often I’ve seen performance bonuses, appointments to positions like ‘Learning Specialists’ etc. given to the high profiles and the pets.

    ‘Reward good teaching’ is a euphemism for “We the Govt refuse to pay teachers what they’re worth”. The Victorian State Govt made that clear with its insulting 1% per 6 month pay rise – good job, Victoria. That’s the way to attract and retain.

    It’s another report that will get put onto the dusty shelf. Wait and see – there’ll be another non-expert panel producing another vacuous report full of motherhood content in 2 years time. In the meantime, I can hardly wait to see the ‘National action plan’ – due soon – that will no doubt have the same motherhood content.

    1. “Good” to me seems to be the source of a lot of issues.

      And… although I really don’t want to think about lockdown education, it did create an interesting discussion about the tasks teachers do beyond the actual instruction of students, gave parents a rather unique insight into just how much is required to educate a person and, dare I suggest, created an interesting discussion about what is really important in the curriculum and what is nice to have but not really essential.

      Lessons that were either not learned or were quickly forgotten when it was convenient.

      I could go on but I fear it will become a rant and I come here for the intellectual debate (and to be amused by Marty’s headlines)

            1. I do find that asking a question here can yield a variety of useful answers and, where there is disagreement, I find it very insightful. So yes, wisdom of crowds.

  4. When I heard there was going to be a review of Initial Teacher Education, I was (naively) hoping for a review of ITE *programs*, which to me sounds like pretty much the same thing.

    For example, among other things a review of a masters of secondary teaching could include a breakdown of time spent:
    * on placements
    * reflecting on placements
    * reviewing (/learning) junior high school content in the appropriate specialties
    * reviewing (/learning) senior high school content in the appropriate specialties
    * learning about pedagogy
    * learning about cognitive psychology (or educational psychology, if you like)
    * learning about classroom/behaviour management
    * learning how to deal with diverse needs – including disability, RAN, etc.
    * learning about the structure of the school system, curriculum, who is responsible for what
    * learning how to write lesson plans/write reports/deal with parents
    * etc.

    It could then consider whether the time spent on each is adequate, or overdoing it. It could also consider the quality of what is done in each dot point. It could look closely at each program, consider whether any are cutting it, overall or on specific points.

    Naturally this would be difficult, and it would need to be done by people who really understand what’s needed. But that’s what I would hope a government-led review would be able to do.

    Instead we get recommendation 7.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. Perhaps it was naive to expect more – i.e. anything – but it’s pretty disappointing. There are hints here and there in the Report of some minor changes to ITE, but it’s clear that the “experts” either didn’t have the brains to get it or the balls to say it.

    2. It had crossed my mind to make a comment asking the following question:

      Why wasn’t a recent graduate teacher included on the ‘expert’ panel?

      Anonymous, your comment drives home exactly why someone like yourself should have been on that panel. Who better qualified to give advice on ITE than someone articulate and intelligent who has recently experienced it ….

      And add to the panel a “high-quality, mid-career changer”. I would contend that these sort of people are the true experts on ITE.

    3. In the MTeach at Deakin, we covered just about all those points as I recall. Looking back, I’d say that the course gave me a good idea of what to expect as a teacher.

      1. So, education is working just fine? Teachers have a clear view of the nature and purpose and method of mathematics education? Nothing you’d look to fix? Any bridges you’d like to buy?

            1. Not to mention decades of prior teaching experience (*) that enables one to subconsciously join the dots and fill in the blanks.

              And yet Terry was still required to suffer (**) through 2 years of the Mastless of Education crap.

              * Some (deliberately) narrow-minded people only consider primary or secondary school teaching as teaching experience.

              ** Yes, Terry. I know you’re going to say that you didn’t suffer, quite the opposite, you found it all useful and pleasant etc. etc. I know people with extensive teaching experience who were/are required to suffer through 2 years of that M.Ed crap and the experience was/is at times excruciating. It’s total insanity.

              1. When I take on a course, I like to do it in full. Therefore in the MTeach I did not seek any exemptions.

                Indeed, I had a lot of prior experience as a university academic. This would have made me more critical of the course. Of course other people enrolled in similar courses may not have had the same positive experiences that I had.

                I then followed it up with a GCertEd (Assessment of Student Learning) through ACER. This was a 4-unit course devoted entirely to assessment. This was useful because assessment plays such an important role in teaching and learning. It was an interesting course.

      2. Anonymous me. I thought I was logged in.

        I would hope a teaching degree would cover all those points. But even if it does, the relative times might be wrong, there might be too much time spent on things that are less important, and courses (or parts of courses) that “cover” one point might do a terrible job at it.

        For example, from what I’ve seen (in a maths specialty), the amount of time spent actually *reviewing* high school maths content is small… and it’s all done in the wrapper of lesson planning. I understand why this is, but I think it’s misguided. I don’t think you can rely on the majority of teaching students remembering enough of high school maths for this approach to work.

        Of course, I’ve only seen what goes on at one uni, maybe others do it differently. But again, that’s why a proper review would be welcome…

        1. If a person is training to be a mathematics teacher and cannot remember “enough of high school maths”, then there is something really, really rotten in Denmark. Then again, maybe this is part of the problem – people training to teach mathematics who have insufficient mathematics training … Once upon a time, a 1 Yr DipEd attached to a relevant undergraduate Bachelor degree. I don’t know whether that applies to the 2 Yr MEd.

          Look how many people think that a PhD in mathematics education means that Doctor X is a skilled mathematician (I have seen it mean quite the opposite).

          1. I believe that the amount of content remembered and properly understood by someone who has just finished any kind of course of study tends to be overestimated by others. To me this appears to be a fact of life, not (necessarily) a fault of the courses they’ve taken. You don’t learn something properly the first time, memory fades, especially stuff that’s not used, etc… Not to mention the fact that a pass mark is usually around 50%.

            For the Masters I know about, the minimum requirement to be a maths teacher is 2 first & 2 second year maths subjects, at some point in the past. To my mind, that’s not really a lot as far as maths training goes. (But I’m not convinced that this bar should be any higher. We need a lot of maths teachers.)

            On top of that, high school content is different from uni content. Being an “expert” doesn’t imply you know high school content back-to-front. I’m a mathematician, and I wouldn’t have minded a review – particularly statistics!

            Not that something isn’t rotten, but I don’t think the need for a refresher implies that something is rotten. I’m not saying everything should be retaught, just reviewed.

              1. Marty, what do you think is lacking in a full maths major that makes it typically a poor background for the teaching of school mathematics? I have a couple of thoughts but am interested in you expanding on your opinion.

                1. I’ll let Anita have first shot, if she wishes to take it, and then I’ll write tomorrow.

                  But briefly, I think there’s a double-barrelled aspect to it. First, certain specifics of what is taught in school may get rusty during undergraduate years. Secondly, although the undergraduate material is more advanced, it may not help much in the teaching of the less advanced material. I think Anita may be focussing more on the former, and me on the latter, although they’re related.

                  1. If the overall suggestion is that the MTeach should include a two (or more) Semester mathematics subject that reviews, consolidates and fills-in-the-gaps, I think it’s a great suggestion (*). Certainly, the stuff that Anita and yourself might suggest is in need of reviewing or is lacking in a maths major would be a part of the syllabus.

                    * Unfortunately I don’t see it happening because it would be seen as irrelevant to ‘learning how to teach’. Having done a DipEd, I am incredulous that it could be stretched into a 2 year MTeach. I found so much of the DipEd as trying to grab a hold of smoke. And if you didn’t believe that everything boiled down to groupwork, constructivism and problem solving, you were put on the naughty list. Explicit teaching was absolute heresy.

                    1. As part of my MTeach at Monash, not once did we open the VCE mathematics study design, and the same for physics. We had only surface level interaction with the F-10 curriculum. This would have been a great use of time. In contrast we spent way too much time comparing the work of Piaget and Vygotsky.

                      I think there’s plenty of scope to have a legitimate 2 year degree, unfortunately your assessment of what is seen as relevant accurate.

                    2. Hi Wilba. Thanks for your post. What you’ve said does not surprise me, nevertheless it still makes me both angry, sad and disappointed. You and your colleagues deserved so much better.

                      When I did my DipEd we spent at least 1 hour looking at the Study Design. It looks like things have deteriorated since then (something I would not have thought possible).

                      Since you mentioned the Study Design … I’m no friend of VCAA but it seems to me that Monash and the other providers of teacher training could have wasted your time in worse ways than getting the VCAA Curriculum Managers out for a half a day and actually discuss the Study Design with you (*). This could serve several useful purposes.

                      Re: “In contrast we spent way too much time comparing the work of Piaget and Vygotsky.”
                      Some things never change.

                      I totally agree that “there’s plenty of scope to have a legitimate 2 year degree.” What really burns me up is the wasted time and opportunities.

                      * I would hope that contributing to ITE is part of the brief of all VCAA Curriculum Managers.

                    3. That’s more or less my suggestion, yes. Although I originally expected that it would be the main point of the 4-5 subject specialisation courses.

                    4. You think?! Yes, it’s a problem alright. It’s a gigantic problem. And it’s a problem that no-one, let alone teachers, give two hoots about.

                      Yes, I find it nauseating the constant mewling and bleating about ‘how hard and unfair the exam was’ instead of focussing on the mathematics (or lack thereof) in the exam.

                      Yes, teachers should care about their students. They should care enough to care about \displaystyle what they teach their students.

                  2. I have some thoughts but not really well-formed enough to write much down. Except: I think it’s largely a question of focus. It’s arguably a good thing for a maths teacher to have a decent focus on maths. But the teachers I’ve met have their focus mainly on their students. This is as it should be. A good maths teacher (in my opinion) should have a sizeable, secondary, focus on maths.

                    You spend enough time thinking about one thing, that becomes your main focus. For better or worse.

                    Your shot Marty.

                    1. Thanks, Anita.

                      It’s off the main thread, but I’m not thrilled by “the teachers I’ve met have their focus mainly on their students”. That seems to me likely either a vacuous motherhoodism, or a sign of pedagogical perversion.

                      I’ll reply soon to the main point as a new (long) comment.

                    2. Most math teachers I’ve met care about their students, but most math teachers I’ve met also don’t really care about mathematics.

                      This is evidenced by the fact that most of the outrage from teachers teaching VCE mathematics is related to the difficulty of the exams, not the mathematics in the exams themselves. And also because most teachers are more than happy to convince students (who are capable of taking specialist mathematics) to take further mathematics instead of specialist mathematics, if they think it will benefit their ATAR more.

                      I think this is a problem.

            1. As curriculums change, teachers have to learn new stuff. But there’s a base knowledge that this new stuff should be building on. Yes, the stats stuff has to be understood and taught by teachers and it’s material that most would not have been taught. So self-teaching is required. But the self-teaching usually involves just learning it from the same textbook that the students use, rather than learning beyond the textbook. Most maths teachers know little more than what’s in the secondary school textbook (*). And there seems to be a real cultural cringe in knowing more. How much PD do maths teachers do that is exclusively focussed on learning mathematics above and beyond what is in the secondary school textbook? How many maths teachers even want to attend such PD? I contend that the answer in both cases is virtually zero (**). It is not seen as relevant to teaching.

              * Re: Stats. How many teachers decided to learn about cdf’s or mgf’s? About specific distributions beyond the normal or binomial distributions? About how to find the pdf of a sum, difference, product or quotient of two random variables? The Central Limit Theorem? Nomenclature such as ‘support’ and ‘mass distribution function’? etc … Things I would put under the general topic of mathematical probability and statistics.

              Markov chains were deleted from the Mathematical Methods course after 2016. How many teachers still review that material, just to keep it extant?

              ** I tip my hat to the various commentators that justify the word “virtually”.

            2. Anita, One can do PD by reading a book. I choose a book that I want to read, take extensive hand-written notes, and then make a summary of the notes in a Word file. I put this information and the file on the VIT portal for PD. I checked with VIT and this appears to satisfy their expectations. I clock up about 20 hours/term this way. It’s inexpensive, tailored to my needs, and satisfies VIT.

              This year I tried something different, and read around a subject rather than focussing on one book. It did not work out so well because I was always being distracted by good ideas. Now I will go back to reading one book in detail – and I’ve started this already for 2023.

              1. It seems to be a secret (*) that PD satisfying VIT requirements includes:
                Meetings (such as discussion on moderating SAC or examination results, annual performance review).
                Writing and/or vetting assessments.
                Lesson planning (which may include meetings).
                Lesson observations
                Reading (self-education), including blogs such as this one (and contributions to such blogs).
                Compulsory DET eLearning modules (even the dumbass ones – which are most of them – such as how to lift things, sit in a chair etc)
                Emails to VCAA, book publishers etc. explaining the mistakes they have made.

                The plain fact is that you can get your 20 PD hours (and more) simply by going about your normal duties in a competent manner (but make sure you keep a diary).

                Keep a diary in all cases.

                The difficulty might be when the VIT decides to try and upgrade its trivial relevance by mandating a specific number of minimum PD hours for various things (**). Even then, reading (or claiming to have read) a relevant book/paper will probably do the trick. It’s hard to see how the VIT can try to verify that such reading occurred (***).

                * Schools are hell-bent on aiding and abetting the Big Lie that you must attend ‘formal’ PD such as “Facilitating a Growth Mindset in the Classroom” etc. in order to satisfy VIT requirements. And obviously all the snake-oil sellers with their snouts in the trough are heavily financially invested in the Big Lie. The VIT does not go out of its way to make this known.

                ** I can see some idiot ‘expert’ recommending this in a report. To a moron, it would seem like the perfect solution to improving the quality of teaching. It certainly has the most important criterion – it doesn’t cost the Govt anything.

                *** Make sure there’s a record of you possessing the book/paper for a sufficient amount of time.

                1. Thanks for the advice. I keep a diary of all my PD activity including reading. I post documentation on the VIT portal. Of course I do the PD at school in addition to my reading. Schools offer opportunities for PD that are aimed at all teaching staff (which is sensible) whereas my reading projects are aimed at satisfying my needs. Thanks again for the advice which seems to be based on years of experience.

                  1. Terry, schools don’t \displaystyle offer PD opportunities. They \displaystyle impose compulsory PD. And in many cases, what they impose is snake oil.

                2. And what’s this article I see in EducationHQ ….

                  “A massive new study suggests that school-based mindfulness programs in Australia may be doing more harm than good.”

            3. Question: (for Anita/Marty/J(N)F or anyone, really since most commenters here have read at least one VCAA Mathematics exam paper)

              Does having a University-level understanding of Mathematics help you to find the garbage in a VCAA exam? (Careful… this is a loaded question)

              Does this, in turn, help you (if you are a teacher) guide your student(s) through to the best possible study score for their subject(s)?

              Sure, there is a lot of crap in VCAA (on that, I do not believe there is a dissenting view) but, on the other-hand, is it not up to teachers to put that to one side (for a moment) and focus on how to maximise student outcomes?

              A wise man (he may have had a vodka or two by this time) once told me that there is no place for idealism in VCE teaching.

              Maybe I should have listened. If so, I may not be quite so bitter and/or twisted.

              1. Hi RF. Let me do the old trick of answering your questions with (a lot of other) questions …

                Does having a VCE-level understanding of Mathematics help you to find the garbage in (say) a Yr 10 exam?

                Does this, in turn, help you (if you are a teacher) guide your (Yr 10) student(s) through to the best possible result for their subject(s)?

                Re: “A wise man (he may have had a vodka or two by this time) once told me that there is no place for idealism in VCE teaching.”

                I think there is a place for idealism. I think regardless of the VCE curriculum, teachers can still be idealistic in their approach to how they teach it (*). Maybe I’m confusing what you’re saying but, I’ll give one small example from Methods Uni 1. I am still idealistic in how I teach asymptotes. Formal definitions are not in the Study Design, nor are examples of graphs that intersect their horizontal asymptote, nor are graphs that have more than one horizontal (or vertical) asymptote. Nevertheless, I am idealistic enough to cover all of this because I believe it is of value. Not doing so:
                1) Creates misconceptions.
                2) Gives an incorrect approach to finding asymptotes.
                3) Causes problems at the Specialist Unit 3 level.

                Contrast this idealism with teachers who say that \displaystyle y = \frac{a}{x - h} + k} has asymptotes with equations x = h and y = k and you can never cross an asymptote (I am aware of plenty of classes where this is said and I am aware of plenty of teachers that actively resist doing otherwise – they don’t see the point. Is there a point?)

                Incidentally, do you think a teacher with no understanding beyond Methods Units 1/2 can teach beyond the previous paragraph? Does such idealism help guide students in Units 3/4?

                And do Units 3/4 teachers have a responsibility to adequately prepare their students for first year university Mathematics? Do Yr 10 teachers have a responsibility to prepare their students for VCE Mathematics? (Warning: There is a trap in these questions).

                * Idealism is easy, the problem is the all-consuming disillusionment that comes with year after year of trying to maintain idealism. Sooner or later you get tired of trying to piss into a hurricane. I wonder if this is discussed in any of those ‘expert’ reports on teacher retention. To maintain idealism I think you have to develop and maintain rage.

                1. An interesting set of thoughts. Thanks.

                  I am full of rage when it comes to school Mathematics and know I am far from alone. Unfortunately, many of my allies seem to have retired and those coming through the system seem to get burned up or burned out rather quickly.

                  But, as you say, I continue to piss into the hurricane!

              2. Hi, RF.

                I think the short answer to your first question is “No”.

                I think the short answer to a modification of your second question is “Yes”.

                You can easily see VCAA’s nonsense if: (a) You have an attitude of scepticism; (b) you bother to look: (c) you have the background to quickly sense potential nonsense, and skills to analyse the possible nonsense.

                It seems to me plenty of commenters (and perhaps silent readers) decently possess (a) and (b), and then also (c) to varying degrees. You, RF, have at times mades comments to the effect that “this smells wrong”, and you were correct.

                I would imagine this is somewhat valuable as a VCE teacher, but that it is second order. To be able to state clearly and confidently, “This is what VCAA asked, and this is what VCAA intended to ask …” is worthwhile. But I don’t think it is the main game.

                1. Marty, Re: “short answer to your first question is “No”.

                  Then a mathematician is not needed to vet the VCE Maths exams? A sufficiently competent and cynical teacher is sufficient? Maybe that’s VCAA’s problem – they only appoint teachers who love them (*).

                  * Teachers who hate VCAA wouldn’t touch them with a 50 foot barge pole. So maybe VCAA has no choice, its only applicants are self-selectively fated to do a bad job. Maybe more than “It’s a wonderful PD opportunity” remuneration is required. At least market rates for commercial trial exams …

                  1. John, I don’t think your footnote format is conducive to good commenting. When possible, say things succinctly.

                    I was interpreting “a University-level understanding of Mathematics” weakly, and thus it would be way insufficient for the proper vetting of VCE exams.

              3. @RF: “University-level understanding of Mathematics” is not as well-defined as it used to be. To get more students into their classes, academic departments (including mathematics) have gone to great lengths to make their offerings appeal to a broader cross-section of the university, because more students will usually mean more money for the department.

  5. Thanks again, Anita, and everyone.

    Anita, what John is suggesting, and with which you seem to agree, seems good: subjects in the Dip Ed/Whatever that review, consolidate and fill in the gaps. Clearly, this is rarely if ever done in Education, and if it is done at all in a standard maths major it is more of an accidental consequence rather than by design. The only thing is, I’d go significantly further, think about why such consolidation subjects are necessary, and address more directly the source of the need.

    In broad outline, it seems to me there are three ways of thinking (or not thinking) about mathematics in this context:

    (a) A largely mechanical approach to truths and methods, with a limited understanding of or concern for deeper concepts.

    (b) A more theoretical interest in and appreciation of mathematical concepts.

    (c) An interest in and concern for how students grapple with and can (hopefully) come to master (a).

    (There is also a parallel (d), on understanding students grappling with (b), but it’s largely off the point here.)

    School mathematics has to be largely utilitarian. Not just because there are (good or bad) tests and exams to be passed or aced, but because the stuff is just too damn hard to get too pure, to expect too deep an understanding. So, I think we have to accept that school maths is largely about (a), and thus school maths teaching is largely based around (c). The question is, how to get a teacher to think clearly about (or be thinking at all about) (c), for the purposes of teaching (a)?

    Obviously a solid mastery of (a) is both necessary and woefully insufficient for (c). So where and how are teachers supposed to get some handle on (c)? Plenty of it must simply come from years of learning as a teacher, to care about and empathise with and struggle with sufficiently many students to master the art of teaching mathematics: professional development in the only important sense of the phrase. But obviously “you’ll eventually get it (if you want to)” doesn’t much help new or would-be teachers.

    There seem to me three formal avenues where would-be teachers might pick up on something decent about (c):

    (i) Standard maths majors (or, commonly, some very proper subset of a standard maths major)

    (ii) More pure/theoretical maths majors, or at least majors with a decent chunk of pure emphasis, extending into mathematics honours/Masters, etc

    (iii) Education degrees.

    I think all three are currently falling to offer much if anything of value to would-be teachers.

    The problem with (i) is that plenty of it is simply more of (a), just on more advanced topics. A cookbook course on differential equations, for example, doesn’t help much at all in learning to teach cookbook integration. Yeah, it’ll help some: the would-be teacher will at least be more practised at integration, improving their (a); and later topics will always somewhat deepen a student’s understanding of the prior topics. But helping with (c) is not the purpose of such university subjects, and they don’t much help with (c).

    The reality is that lots of university mathematics subjects, particularly the lower level core subjects that would-be teachers are more likely to have done, are of this (a) nature. Whatever their intrinsic merits as mathematics subjects, they are not having the students approach the subject in a fundamentally different manner from the approach to school mathematics.

    To this extent, (ii) is obviously an improvement, which is the idea of (b) somehow leading to (c). There is no question that *every* school mathematics teacher, from prep on up, should as a matter of (actual) Course have some decent sense of the structure of mathematical truth and technique. Simply an appreciation of the basic notions of definition and axiom and theorem would help a hell of a lot. Not in order to teach school maths in that manner, but to be able to hint and nudge students to a deeper understanding, and to avoid uttering false and ultimately confusing statements. If I see one more goddam “proof” that 30 = 1 I’m gonna kill someone.

    However, I don’t think the (ii) of pure maths subjects at uni can even theoretically offer all that much to (c), and in practice in Australia I think they typically offer a lot less than the theoretical maximum. First of all, they offer less because the majority of would-be maths teachers will not be taking many or any properly pure subjects. The subjects are simply too difficult for most teachers. So, sure, it’d be great if every primary maths teacher had had a solid subject on number systems, and every secondary maths teacher had had a solid subject on abstract algebra, and had had a serious even if losing fight with epsilons and deltas. It ain’t gonna happen.

    The other problem is that most undergraduate pure maths subjects are not that good, except maybe for the very few top-end students, and are not well-taught. If the subject is properly hard then it is typically taught (?) in a “sink or swim” manner; most students, if they don’t quite sink, barely make it to the edge, gasping “What the hell was that?” Such subjects may be asking students to prove hard stuff, but they’re not usually offering much instruction on *how* to prove hard stuff; in particular, they’re of little value for thinking about (c). The alternative is the fake pure subject, where the lecturer properly proves hard theorems, but the students are tasked with little more than applying these theorems to prove much easier micro-theorems. In effect, it’s just more (a) and again little value for (c).

    Finally to (iii). Of course the main problem here is that the vast majority of maths ed lecturers are either out of their minds or are invested in some nonsense with only third-order consequences. (Inclusive “or”). Yes, there is some occasional pretension to cover (c), but if it is done it is invariably in some flighty, philosophical manner, of no use to anyone. It is never properly anchored to actual subject content, or considered with sufficient depth to encourage proper consideration or understanding.

    It can be done. If you look at Tony Gardiner’s book on teaching secondary mathematics (excerpted here and here and here), or Hung-Hsi Wu‘s extended guide to teaching fractions (discussed briefly in the comments here), they are dealing with actual topics thoughtfully, mathematically. Simply reading these two sources would be way, way more useful for a would-be – or current – mathematics teacher than two years of education clown acts.

    It is clearly in education faculties where the deep and proper treatment of (c) should be undertaken, and it is clear that it will not happen in Australia in the foreseeable future. Education faculties are simply too far removed from mathematics, their lecturers too weak in and too uninterested in mathematics. They do, however, love their students.

    1. Marty, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you say so much. Thank you for this comment.

      Following from your final sentence, I’ve said it already but will say/paraphrase it again in a different context:

      The ITE lecturers should love their students enough to care about \displaystyle what they teach their students.

      I was going to add my own thoughts, but they were purely about possible (but not exclusive) content for our hypothetical (and probably never to be realised) mathematics subject taught as part of ITE. I might do so later.

      By the way, I’m told by a reliable source that students learning how to be Primary School Teachers are scared out of their wits about mathematics. So any such hypothetical subject should be one that enables mathematical \displaystyle confidence as well as competence. It’s not a tall order, surely?

  6. At Deakin, I had two lecturers in mathematics education in the four mathematical units that we covered. One had a PhD in pure mathematics; I don’t know the background of the other but she seemed to know mathematics well enough. I gathered from various discussions with them, and people from U Melb, that MTeach courses have trouble attracting students who are well-qualified in mathematics. Perhaps this is part of the push to encourage people with industry experience to try teaching.

    During my MTeach (which was entirely on-line except for placements) I did meet a student with a BSc who was very nervous that, if she got a job, she would be asked to teach mathematics. These days you can do a science degree with almost no mathematics. And in my short experience in teaching at a few schools, I have met some teachers who are teaching mathematics but openly admit that they have almost no background in mathematics.

    I did ask elsewhere the other day why many ads for mathematics teachers are listed as Maths/Science positions. To be sure, there are good people out there qualified in both, but there are also science graduates who are not confident with mathematics, and mathematics graduates who are not confident with science. Ads for jobs in Mathematics/PE are also common: I have often thought of applying for one!

    On a personal note, over the years, I have applied for many mathematics teaching jobs. Usually I don’t get an interview. I don’t really know why – and I have sometimes asked for feedback. I realise that there may be applicants who better suited than I am. But I don’t understand why they don’t even grant me an interview.

    I am therefore grateful to my present school which has given me an opportunity and almost the perfect job – small classes with above average students.

    1. Has either of your mathsy lecturers said a public word about ACARA’s curriculum? If not, …

      On your personal note I can tell you (and have told you) exactly why you’ve struggled to get interviews.

    2. Re: “On a personal note, over the years, I have applied for many mathematics teaching jobs. Usually I don’t get an interview. … But I don’t understand why they don’t even grant me an interview.”

      Terry, I obviously can’t comment on you in particular, but I can make a general observation that schools think that teachers are like apples. When you need one, just go to the apple tree and take your pick. Legacy thinking. Schools (certainly Govt schools) are being dragged kicking and screaming to the realisation that the apple tree ain’t got any apples anymore.

      About 20 years ago, I applied for a Mathematics Teacher position at a particular private girls school in a well-to-do suburb and heard nothing after 4 weeks. I rang HR (*) to enquire about the progress of my application. I was told that these things take time and I needed to wait (the tone of the voice was I needed to wait until the school deigned to let me know whether or not I had an interview). I told the HR person to advise the Principal that I was withdrawing my application because in my opinion this reflected very poorly on the school culture. The Principal rang me later that day, not to apologise for the delay, but to berate me that I had the nerve to withdraw my application and that I would never get a job at …… while she was Principal. I advised her that what she said was true because I would never again apply for a job at a school where she was the Principal (**) and hung up.

      The moral of the story is that in the past many schools have treated applicants like crap, because they could get away with it. You were just one of dozens of apples on the tree. Well, Winter has come.

      * From what I can see these days, the title of HR Personnel is now Talent Acquisition. The titles just keep getting fancier and fancier.

      ** For all I know, she now sits on ‘expert’ panels advising on why there’s a teacher shortage and what can be done about it.

      1. @JF: Good story; my laugh for the day; at one school recently I did not get an interview; but they did ring me up a few weeks later to invite me to teach Specialist Mathematics for term 4; I declined.

    3. I looked at the Deakin website. It seemed as off the point as all the others. In short, to the extent you were trying to imply anything, I don’t believe you.

      1. I’m not sure what I have said that you do not believe. By and large, I was just describing my own experience at Deakin at the time.

        Anyway, there were two important reasons for me to choose studying at Deakin. First, the course was entirely on-line. Second, Deakin allowed pre-service teachers to choose double mathematics at their methods; I am not qualified to teach anything else. This second aspect may well have disappeared since I studied there. When I studied at Deakin, there were only two students in the MTeach who chose double mathematics at their methods.

        Since then, governments have changed, ministers have changed, inquiries have come and gone, universities have down-sized by paying people to leave, and moved to on-line teaching by casual staff.

        1. Let’s make it more general. Point me to anything public or published in Australian maths ed which you regard as a significant positive, as as a sign of good thought in relation to a properly fundamental concern.

          1. In the paper “Is statistics boring?” Vinculum, 52(4) (2015), 4, I outlined my concerns about the place of statistics in the curriculum. I doubt that this will have any impact on what seems to be an unstoppable trend.

            In the paper, “When probability trees don’t work.” International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 47(6) (2016), 972–976 (co-authors: K.C. Chan, C.T. Lenard) we made an effort to correct certain misunderstandings that we noticed in VCE mathematics. I believe (but cannot prove) that this, and a related paper, had some influence on the curriculum in Victoria.

            In the paper “Could the ideas of T.S. Kuhn revolutionise mathematics teaching?” Australian Mathematics Education Journal, 2(1) (2020), pp. 35–39 (co-author: A. Sacrez), we point to ideas in the mathematics curriculum that were revolutionary at the time of their discovery, but their revolutionary nature is glossed over or ignored in the curriculum and textbooks. I would like to see more emphasis on aspects of the history of mathematics in the curriculum.


            Modestly yours, et cetera

              1. Pity; otherwise I would have mentioned “Probability: a matter of life and death.” Australian Senior Journal of Mathematics, vol. 30, no. 1 (2016), 18–24 (co-authors: M. Hassani, R. Kippen). In this paper we show how life tables can be used to teach students, almost effortlessly, about many aspects of probability theory. Furthermore, they learn about the societies on which the life tables are based. In the last few weeks, I have used life tables from Victoria, Germany, and Burkina Faso with students from years 8,9. But I won’t mention this.

                1. Yep, you’re not allowed to mention it.

                  You can mention, however, that a mathematician with decades of experience, and decades of dedication to teaching, and thinking and writing about teaching, struggles to get interviews to be a teacher. Feel free to mention that. I plan to. Often.

                  1. Also mention that
                    “a mathematician with decades of experience, and decades of dedication to teaching, and thinking and writing about teaching”
                    is forced to do the full two year MTeach.

                    Marty’s comment captures exactly what is wrong with the Victorian education system. I like to think my follow-up comment captures a key point of what is terribly wrong with ITE.

                    Marty, we know you did a DipEd. Would you have been willing to endure the two year MTeach?

                    1. I enrolled in Unimelb’s Masters for about three days, until I had a run-in with one of Stacey’s henchmen. Three days of insanity.

                    2. Another anecdote for the memoirs.
                      Marty, correct me if I’m wrong. You were able to subsequently squeeze into a DipEd at Monash literally moments before they pulled the pin on the DipEd …?

            1. The advocates of ‘decolonising’ mathematics may get your wish granted in a most unexpected and undesirable way.

            2. Re: “I believe (but cannot prove) that this, and a related paper, had some influence on the curriculum in Victoria”

              Terry, you significantly underestimate the arrogance and hubris of VCAA.

              (Only inbred hillbillies can influence inbred hillbillies).

        2. I think Latrobe’s Mastless of Teaching is also entirely on-line and allows pre-service teachers to choose double mathematics as their methods.

          What it (and all the rest) DON’T allow is any recognition be given to prior teaching experience. It’s amazing – the lecturers mewl and bleat about the importance of differentiation in teaching and yet every single course has a one-size-fits-all approach. I find their hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness and greed disgusting and loathsome. The problems with ITE start and end with these institutes and their Mastless of Teaching courses (*).

          * And the so-called ‘experts’ with no guts and/or brains who write vacuous report after vacuous report on how to fix the problems with ITE. With their timid “might consider [this]” and “might consider [that]” tip-toe and don’t offend anyone phrasing rather than “[This] must be done” and “[That] must be done”. The reports read at times like the writers are too embarrassed to be point out problems and give clear solutions. These reports should be the equivalent of a coroners report on ITE.

          1. Has anyone heard the Minister of Education come out and say “We accept all of the recommendations in this report and will be working hard on implementing them over the coming months” …?

            Has there been any Govt statement even remotely resembling this?

            I have never heard an Education Minister comment on the findings of any of these reports. I think the best we’ve ever gotten is “The Govt will be examining the report closely.” Never to be heard of again.

              1. Thanks, Terry.

                “The Australian Government has accepted all 11 recommendations of the IRRRRE Review.

                [Actioned by:]

                Expand accessibility of sub-bachelor programs
                Expand accessibility for bachelor students at regional study hubs
                Improved access to Youth Allowance for Regional Students”

                In the last 4 years, I don’t see much evidence that the recommendations were implemented as a result of them being accepted. (And if they were, I don’t see any evidence that it made any difference. Things seem even worse).

                  1. Terrific. That’s good.
                    “The recommendations cover curriculum and assessment, principals and teachers, career education, early childhood and the importance of school readiness, expanding vocational education and training and university opportunities and pathways, philanthropy and entrepreneurship, information and communication technologies, improving the support available to move away from home and the importance of education to improving the economic sustainability of regional areas.”

                    So “university opportunities and pathways, … improving the support available to move away from home (*)” are being addressed. And what about the rest? “curriculum and assessment, principals and teachers, career education, early childhood and the importance of school readiness” …?

                    Terry, I don’t expect you to advocate for the Govt, but it seems to me that the reality is different to the spin. After 4 years this is the best the Govt can do from that report?

                    * So students who need some financial support to study are going to get it now? The whole youth allowance change is a shell game. How many more students in reality, I wonder? Centrelink uses every trick in the book to NOT pay money to people who qualify, and that includes students. (Yes, I have experience with Centrelink).

          2. @JF: I did not know that the MTeach at La Trobe allowed double mathematics as a method. As I recall, this was not the case when I was looking for a suitable course. Maybe things have changed.

            Deakin has been offering courses by correspondence for as long as I can remember. I was not sure how I would go with learning on-line – but I enjoyed every minute of it. I could work at any time of my choosing, I could easily contribute to on-line discussions, the IT systems were straightforward, lecturers always answered my email messages in a reasonable time, feedback on assessments was good, no travel involved – and the coffee was better at home. There is an art to being successful in on-line learning; it’s not rocket science but it has its own style.

  7. My experience with ITE spans across the Education Faculties of 3 universities: Monash, ACU & La Trobe. For accreditation, all are required to align their courses with the AITSL standards. “Know students and how they learn” and “Know the content and how to teach it” are logical, reasonable and essential. Beyond that, the remaining standards are superfluous. But if being superfluous was their only deficiency then that would likely be tolerable. Unfortunately, that is not the case since they are time-consuming, onerous, and largely pointless distractions; they are box-ticking exercises that appear to be designed solely to employ an army of like-minded box-tickers. Similarly-minded Education Experts are also responsible for The Curriculum, the latest incarnation of which is objectively nonsensical, thoroughly unreadable and largely un-implementable. Congratulations to all involved.

    That’s one side of the coin. The other side is even more difficult to change: Australian Culture (particularly when supported by Government Policy). Why bother learning when a child can travel from Prep through to the end of Year 10 (and, arguably, the end Year 11) without doing anything? ‘Automatic Progression’ should be relabelled ‘Guaranteed Regression’ but that is not likely to happen since, inherent in the renaming, is an admission of failure (and also of culpability). But the ‘Do nothing and be rewarded for it’ message permeates into VCE. Why bother studying for 30+ hours per week in order to get a high ATAR to get into Medicine or Law when you can work part-time at Bunnings and have that newly-released smartphone? Why bother doing any homework whatsoever when teachers are pressured to give a Satisfactory result for VCE even if the student, by any fair and objective measure, is thoroughly incapable of even turning-up to class on-time, and with a pen, let alone submitting work that is above a competent Year 8 standard? Why bother even trying in maths when the child is continuously bombarded with messages that maths is irrelevant, maths is uncool, and maths is not a necessary skill to receive Centrelink payments?

    From what I’ve seen so far, the two sets of greatest ills are Education Experts and Australian Culture. I believe that is why the decline in Australian Education is inevitable and irreversible. Even if the former are replaced by rational and competent people, the latter is unconquerable. She’ll be right, mate!

    But she won’t be right, mate, and she isn’t right, mate – not at all. Looking at the achievement levels of our Year 9 maths students, 55% are at Grade 4 and below, 25% are between Grade 5 and Year 8, and only 20% are at Year 9 standard. The results for our Year 7 maths students are similarly depressing: 65% are at Grade 3 and below, 15% are between Grade 4 and Grade 6, and only 20% are at Year 7 standard. Consequently, our maths teachers have been running 3 (or more) classes within each class that they teach. Thankfully, we will be streaming next year which will help, but the issues of Culture and Curriculum still remain. And then there are the Snake Oil Merchants regularly knocking on our virtual doors, attempting to flog us the next cure-all, for a “modest fee” of course.

    A genuine review of ITE should include a genuine review of the AITSL standards. As a first draft, I’d scrap Standards 3 through to 7, condensing Standards 1 and 2 down to “Know students and how they learn” and “Know the content and how to teach it”, which would naturally provide for much greater focus for ITE providers. ITE courses should then move to a largely apprenticeship-style model where student teachers are embedded in a school. Look more towards La Trobe’s NEXUS model – and stay well away from TFA’s Leadership Development Program. Two years of full-time M.Teach study with 0.8FTE classes is insane. Of course, panic would set in and there would be many vociferous opponents, but isn’t the flak the heaviest when directly over the target?

    1. Thanks, Sir H. I agree. The AITSL Standards are actively poisonous, the only tangible effect of which is to lower teaching standards in any meaningful sense of the word. That the ITE Report treated institutionalised nonsense such as the Standards with unthinking respect demonstrated that the writers were unwilling or incapable of thinking seriously about Australia’s educational woes.

      1. Hear, hear, Sir H. I also agree.

        And let’s not forget that teachers (in public schools) have to align their ‘goals’ with these AITSL Standards and explain this in their annual review (*). I advocate writing a couple of random AITSL Standards for each goal rather than sweating over this for hours (which I know many teachers do). And then simply asking “Have I been a competent teacher, yes or no? If no, please justify (and explain why you’ve allowed me to be incompetent). If yes, then tick the satisfactory box and let’s be done with this farce.” at the review.

        * One reason why the snake oil sellers are so successful. Growth Mindset (unsupported by genuine evidence), anyone? How about some off-the-shelf Mindfulness? With some discount Resilience thrown in as a bonus.

        1. JF, I sure like you approach. “Am I incompetent?” If no, then here endeth the Inquisition… If yes, then when did you first conclude that I was/am incompetent? And, like you said, why did you decide to abandon your duty of care to the students, their parents, other staff, and other ‘interested parties’ and consciously and deliberately allow me to continue teaching (and to continue doing yard duty) after you have deemed me to be incompetent? Reluctantly channelling the red-headed one, “Please explain!” (after explaining the concept of transfer of legal liability back to said accuser as a result of ‘all of the above’). Brilliant.

  8. A university degree in mathematics should also prepare prospective teachers to be able to cope with changes to the curriculum. We have seen ideas such as statistics, graph theory, logic, financial mathematics, and CAS calculators introduced over recent years; yet many mathematics teachers may have not encountered these topics in their university studies. Teachers need sufficient mathematical skills to deal with these changes.

    1. I weakly disagree. A university degree in mathematics shouldn’t be trying to be all things for all people.

      I contend that a fit-for-purpose postgraduate Degree (or Diploma) in teaching should include a mathematics subject for prospective secondary school mathematics teachers (*) that includes material that is new to a Study Design. And maybe there should be more choice of mathematics subjects in first year – Discrete Mathematics 101 (logic, proof, graph theory, number theory etc.), Mathematical Statistics 101 etc. Such subjects would complement your generic Mathematics 101 subject and could be taken at any stage in the undergraduate degree. In fact, such subjects should be available during the Mastless of Teaching …

      * It should also be offering a separate mathematics subject for prospective primary school teachers.

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