Transcript

Future Teachers with Lorraine Ling

Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University Podcast. I'll be your host, Matt Smith and I'm joined here by Professor Lorraine Ling today. She is the dean of the education faculty. Thank you for joining me Lorraine.

Lorraine Ling:

That's all right Matthew.

Matt Smith:

Now, we're here to talk about teaching today and the teachers of the future that you're educating here at La Trobe. Now, first I'd like to ask you what are the challenges associated with educating our future teachers?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, there are always challenges with educating future teachers because of the impact teachers have on people's lives. Clearly, no teacher will not have an impact whether it's a positive one, or a negative one so I think as teacher educators where particularly aware of the huge responsibility that we have to educate teachers who are going to go out there and be effects that are positive. And secondly, the tremendous responsibility we have to instill in the teacher education students for that role that they're about to go out and play. So I think part of what we have to do is to make a very clear picture for these teacher education students of the context in which they'll be teaching because it varies from decade to decade.

And quite clearly what we were telling teacher education students 10 or 15 years ago is not the kind of thing that we'd be likely to be telling them now because the conditions, the challenges they will face are different. The socioeconomic conditions are different and therefore as teachers they have to be aware of the whole sociopolitical and economic environment that they're working in otherwise they're working in some kind of a vacuum which is not a real life context.

Matt Smith:

How do you account for what's going to be down the track?

Lorraine Ling:

In fact you can't as the crystal ball gaze, which is why I have the greatest difficulty with a lot of what goes on in the line of education in terms of outcomes based or competency based education. Because the competencies that the students that we're teaching now in prep who will exit from prep 13 years hence on the kinds of skills and competencies they're going to need. We actually probably don't really know because the rate of change that the pace of uncertainty, all of the things that are likely to happen in those 13 years between them going into prep and coming out of school the 12 and is absolutely uncontrollable.

And so all we can do is provide them with a set of skills that allows them to adapt to change that allows them to be flexible, that allows them to be open, that allows them to themselves become agents of change, and that allows them to know how to relate to the students they teach. Because when it comes to what matters most in a school, we can have all of the you beaut whiz bang materials you like. Alternately what counts is the relationship between the teacher and the learner. And if that's good, you can forgive a whole lot of other things you don't have. But if that isn't there, then all resources in the world are not going to make up for the fact that the teacher-student relationship is a poor one.

Matt Smith:

Is there a gender imbalance in teaching and is that sort of thing a problem in these days?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, in fact there's been a gender imbalance since about 1875 and…

Matt Smith:

It seems to be very noticeable now though - I've got a sister who's a teacher and there's no male teachers except for the principal…

Lorraine Ling:

In a secondary school.

Matt Smith:

No. That's in a primary school.

Lorraine Ling:

It's more likely to be in a primary school that you do find a predominance of female teachers. In fact, there was a study done by at Commonwealth level right across Australia and the left probably pretty much the lightest result we've got was 2003 and it was making projections as to what would happen through 2012.

There is still a preponderance of female teachers in primary in fact in Victoria at that point 79.5% of the teaching population in primary schools was female and in secondary 56.2 were female.

So, over the whole of the teaching workforce in Victoria and I'm just singling at Victoria, females accounted for 67.5% of the teaching force which is not kind of untypical of what's going on in Australia, if you look at the entire Australian figures they're very similar to the Victorian ones with 67% of total females in the workforce across Australia.

Matt Smith:

Is that sort of an imbalance something that should be a concern now?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, yes. I was talking to a male teacher the other day as to what his motivation had been and he was a man in his mid to late 40's who made a career change and decided quite clearly that he wanted to go into teaching. And one of the reasons that had caused him to do that was something similar to the experience that you've talked about with his children in schools with so few male role models in primary schools. He could say that is the real problem so that had motivated him to become a teacher. There are things that militate against males going into primary schools of course and the more we hear and see in the mid year about…

Matt Smith:

Yeah. I think the best way to put it is a subject to a lot more scrutiny.

Lorraine Ling:

They're subject to a great deal more scrutiny and of course there's always been this discourse about primary schools and the need for nurturing in the late part of the 19th Century that discourse was very much played up by males who saw themselves as being the administrators in the system and therefore the principals and the people who were doing the managing whilst the females was seen as being the nurturing caring gender and therefore they were there to be part of the teaching in primary school workforce. And in fact Andy Hargreaves who writes a lot of that teaching says, “When teaching is same as the kinds of caring and nurturing relationship that typifies parenting, there is little discussion of Pedagogical and Professional Issues.” So what's missing out of that whole notion of it's a nurturing profession is yes, it is but it's by stand pedagogical theories. And it's based on professional issues which men and women regardless need to be aware of.

Matt Smith:

Do you have any ideas on how and how you address that sort of imbalance, maybe even up the scales a bit?

Lorraine Ling:

In our courses here at La Trobe, it's remained pretty constant in terms of the number of males that have been coming in. We haven't seen a dramatic decline in the number of males particularly on the one year postgraduate primary program. Certainly there's a predominance of females in the four years straight on from year 12 program. But nonetheless, I think the department of education has to encourage more males to come into teaching and in order to do that they've got to think some of incentives that they're going to offer. But at the same time, they can't offer incentives to the males that are going to disadvantage the females.

So I can see that it's a very difficult issue because what the department will do if they've got a hard to staff subject area for example is they will offer incentives for people to come into teaching to teach Math and Science. They might be paid in a bit more than they're paying others because there's a demand that can't be filled. But in fact that would be inequitable if that was to be done in terms of trying to attract more males but it's hard to think what can be done to make it more attractive to males.

Matt Smith:

You spent a lot of time in Bendigo and in rural areas. What is the situation as you see it of teaching in rural areas? There's lot of schools without enough students these days, do you see that as being a big problem?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, there has been a steady decline in the number of students in primary schools.

Matt Smith:

There's been a decline in teachers as well in rural areas hasn't been.

Lorraine Ling:

Well, they're harder to staff particularly rural and remote areas are harder to staff. But it goes in cycles, primary schools in general, in rural areas, and regional areas are much easier to staff than secondary. Because you will often get living in rural and regional areas often female teachers who have married, had families and want to go back into teaching but want to stay within the rural area in which they're living. So you often find it less difficult to staff primary schools in rural than regional areas than you do secondary.

And there are particular areas that are hard to staff discipline areas that are hard to staff. Math is one. Science is one. Language is harder than English is another special education and ICT those are the big gaps in the moment.

This proliferation of psychology teachers and not a lot of psychology necessarily being taught so as a teacher educator it behooves me to look at where the market needs are and not to just keep pouring out endless primary teachers if what the market needs is less primary teachers and more secondary teachers. So in fact, I think as teacher educators, we have to take a responsible look what the workforce demand and supply figures are.

Matt Smith:

One of the ideas to deal with the lack of students and resources in rural areas was it called the Outback University or something?

Lorraine Ling:

No. It was going to be called “The Regional University” and at the moment Charles Stewart and Southern Cross have been given an amount of money by the Commonwealth Government following the Bradley Review. And they're scoping at the moment doing a feasibility study into the possibility of a kind of an inland regional university. One doesn't know what the outcome of that will be.

Matt Smith:

Do you think viable solution, do you think it's the right way to go?

Lorraine Ling:

No. I don't necessarily think it is because at the moment trying to work across different state jurisdictions and different state curriculum boundaries and different state legislations makes it really difficult. I mean the Australian Catholic University manages to do it. But again, I think you would find it really hard to set up something that was cohesive and something that was ensuring that there was an equity of provision across all of the regions.

Matt Smith:

Is there a problem with the aging workforce amongst teachers? Are we getting a lot of all these teachers staying in the system?

Lorraine Ling:

The average age of teachers across the system in Australia is 49. And in Victoria, it's probably now up very close to 49 or 50 which means that within the next five years we could expect quite a few retirements because teachers will quite typically retire at 54 and 11 months because of certain superannuation benefits that can be gained by doing that. What we have is an aging workforce and what we're getting is younger teachers able to come in the other end but invariably being put in contract rather than being given tenured positions. Younger teachers seem to be brought in on contract and that's increasingly the way our graduates get employed in the first instance. So there's very little job security for them, if they're on a contract. The whole workforce needs to be built with these young teachers being given some sense of tenure and some sense of security because we know that they're going to be massive numbers going out the other end.

Matt Smith:

Yeah. It sounds like coming back to what you said about getting young teachers incentives or student incentives to do teaching.

Lorraine Ling:

Yeah, giving them incentives to do teaching. Giving them incentives to go to hard to staff schools, giving them incentives to come in to hard to staff discipline areas. Math and Science are hard to staff because if a graduate comes out with Math and Science, they know that if they go into industry, they will earn twice as much as they gone to earn as teachers.

Matt Smith:

Can I ask you what you think about the Rudd Government Schools Stimulus Package?

Lorraine Ling:

It's got a tag to it and they're only certain ways you can spend those fund and some schools don't need those things. They need other things much more desperately. So, the autonomy of how those funds are being spent is not being left to the local community itself. It's coming with strings attached and if those strings are not the right strings, you just get more of what you've already got.

Matt Smith:

So do you think it will work a lot better if they didn't have conditions attached to it?

Lorraine Ling:

Yeah. I think it would work much better if they did more of a needs analysis and instead of just trying to do a Band-Aid and a quick fix which this is probably all about. They actually did it in a much more targeted and nuanced way that picked up the needs of the various communities that they're trying to stimulate rather than just giving the more of what they've gotten leaving them with less of what they need.

Matt Smith:

Was the Rudd Stimulus Package needed?

Lorraine Ling:

It's absolutely crucial that more money is spent on education both school education and higher education because in terms of higher education Australia is one of the only OECD countries that has steadily declined in terms of the percentage of Gross National Product spent on education over the last decade. And you can see what that's done because some 10 or 15 years ago, 80% or 90% of their money in higher education would have been from the government and it's now something like about 38%. No wonder we have declined. No wonder the student's staff ratio hasn't gone up.

Likewise there has been an underfunding of school education as well and say you've seen increases in class sizes and you've seen lack of resources and disadvantaged areas particularly. So yes, they need to spend more money on it but unfortunately for governments, they see that the way to win votes because they're only there for certain length of time is not to take the time and the effort and to do the research necessary to find out exactly where those moneys are needed, but to do a quick fix and throw a bucket of money at something with a few tags on it and hope it's going to fix it and win you votes. It possibly works the government but it doesn't necessarily get to the core of what systems need.

Matt Smith:

Professor Lorraine Ling, thank you for your time today.

Lorraine Ling:

Thank you, Matthew.