I became a teacher at 40. I could lie and say I had a strong sense of vocation, but at the time, it was more about having a steady income for the foreseeable future. I worked as a creative rep for 10 years in advertising and fashion, and my enthusiasm for the industry had petered. I wasn’t saving any lives, nor was I earning a predictable salary. The decision to change careers came when I secured a gig for one of my artists shooting a Corona advertisement on a beach in Mexico and, unenthused, I sent my producer instead of myself. The gloss had dulled.
I had originally thought I might become an art teacher, but as my study progressed, I decided that all I really wanted to teach was art writing. I had been a reader all my life and was doing well in my English electives, so decided I would have better job prospects as an English teacher. Little did I know that several years later there would be shortages in almost all areas of teaching. I made my start as a teacher’s aide, hoping to get some experience but also make a little money while I studied. This is where the vocational-feels began for me. I don’t think I made much of an impact but I could see where my study was headed.
I moved to Sydney to enrol in the last available single-year teaching degree. The university offered a condensed version of an 18-month qualification by working us through summer and winter school as well as the regular academic calendar. To support myself, I worked in behaviour and high-support schools for special purposes and through this, got work as a disability support worker in respite care. This was perfect for full-time study as I could finish a shift by 9am (yes, finish) and work on weekends and nights for penalty rates. The work was physically and emotionally challenging at times, but essential if we wanted to keep the lights on.
The Centre for Independent Studies has released a policy paper about reintroducing one-year teaching qualifications in Australia to entice mid-career professionals like me into teaching. Studying was tough for me. I don’t know if I would have made it through a second year of full-time study and worked 30 hours a week in the time I had left. If I had known at the outset that retraining would take five years instead of four, I’m not sure I would have started study. My university cohort was mostly middle-aged women with children who had escaped/been retrenched from media and decided to work in a family-friendly role (ha!). Only one was a single parent and I think that’s telling.
I’ve written before about how initial teacher education in Australia tends not to prepare teachers very well, with some notable exceptions like the moves made by La Trobe. I would be thrilled if universities were willing to double down on quality while doubling down on lost income and university fees. It’s no surprise that the report references universities that claim that the single-year degree would ‘deprofessionalise’ or reduce the status of teachers. But there is no correlation between time served at university and teacher effectiveness. This seems like pure gatekeeping to me. Glenn Fahey’s analysis points out that:
No evidence has been put forward of any differences in quality between teachers with one-year qualifications and those who went through longer pathways. Given the size of this group, it is obvious that any systemic deficiencies in their training could not have remained hidden to date. More than 60,000 Australian teachers hold a DipEd, according to AITSL’s 2018 survey for their ‘National Teacher Workforce Characteristics Report’, accounting for 29% of secondary teachers (~42,000) and 12% of primary teachers (~18,000). No analysis has ever suggested these teachers’ work to be of inferior quality to that of their peers
The report tells us what most teachers already know. I was lucky (?) in the sense that I wasn’t giving up a lucrative career and having to sacrifice two years of income so that I could secure a pay cut at the end of it all. Add to this that teaching is a feminised workforce and you can see how the debt and time out of the labour market can make retraining completely unfeasible. The report is worth reading, but I wanted to tell the human side of policy in education. Mine is hardly a sob story but I do wonder how many capable mid-career professionals have waded onto a university website, done the maths and thought, No thanks.
I was also lucky enough to have access to one of the few available one-year programs in the US when I switched from TEFL to secondary English. I wouldn't have considered a two-year program. Two years of extended study is a very, very long time for an established professional, especially when it ends with a pay-cut and lots of university credits of dubious value. The research consensus on teacher training was definitely true in my case: most of the content wasn't helpful, and I learned far, far more from student teaching under a master educator.
Apprenticeships in general seem very under-funded and under-explored, at least in the United States, even though every teacher I know seems to agree that hanging out in the classroom and practicing with an expert is the best way to learn the job.
My teaching degree (a masters) was absolutely useless. Ironically, it made me appreciate how, to some degree, my bachelor of arts was quite rigorous.