Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A masters, yes - but in what?

I've recently read Bali Haque's book Changing our secondary schools. I have the greatest respect for Bali Haque as an educator and remember meeting him when I returned to my old high school, Tamatea High, when he had taken up the role of principal there. I was looking to confirm my decision to go into teaching by having a couple of days back at my old school as my BSc degree came to a close. With the wild long hair I had at the time I'd hardly looked the part, but Bali didn't blink as he welcomed me back. He help provide me with an opportunity to confirm my decision to go into teaching.

Much of the Bali Haque's recently published book deals provides a critique of educational reform over the last 3 decades. It closes by offering some possible solutions to ways to improve our secondary schools: addressing economic and social disparities; finding new tools to measure teacher effectiveness; teacher support and professional development; improving selection and training of school leaders and ensuring any change is well planned, implemented, evaluated and supported. I agree with many of his ideas, disagree with others.

One of the interesting arguments he makes is around attracting top tier graduates to teaching - a re-professionalising of the profession as such, by attracting the best graduates. This has proven one of the many effective measures taken in Finland and if teacher salaries reflected a desire by the government to seriously invest in education then I have no doubt it would be a step in the right direction. Where we differ in opinion however, is in the type of qualification a teacher should have. Bali Haque argues all secondary teachers should have, or should be working towards, at least a master's degree in their specialist subject(s). He posits putting a higher level of entry threshold will improve the prestige and attractiveness of the profession and improve the quality of applicants into teaching. I'm not completely convinced. An issue I feel still presents itself in teaching is that teachers can see themselves as teachers of subjects rather than students, and this would go no way towards addressing this issue. At times, teachers can take the corner of the ring and fight for their subject, strongly adhering to particular prerequisites for course entry or hold on to the purity of subject matter and content delivery and miss noticing what students in front of them may, or may not need, right at that moment of time.

If secondary teachers are expected to have a masters then what I'd rather see is teachers all being supported to attain a Masters of Education degree, rather than a specialist subject knowledge of a very specific and channelled subject masters. Within the masters degree knowledge of what motivates students to learn, how assessment can aide student learning and not just be a measure of learning, how specific pedagogical content knowledge can be used to help teachers plan and differentiate classroom learning, how digital technologies can be effective blended into the classroom environment to enhance classroom learning. This to me is what we need, subject experts with a deep knowledge of the art and craft of teaching; teachers who see they are first teachers of students, not subjects; teachers that are constantly honing their craft knowing that every day, until the day the teach their last lesson, they be looking for ways to constantly improve what they do. This is the sort of mindset that can be developed by teachers through a master level study of education, rather than further study of a specialist field, such as chemistry. We currently have students completing the new Massey University Masters of teaching and learning degree students placed with us as a partner school for the year. This new model has the real potential to provide the sort of learning I have mentioned and in my mind should turn out better teachers as a result.

I'd be interested in your thoughts?

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