A supportive environment: Beginning Teacher Project

Issue: Volume 96, Number 4

Posted: 13 March 2017
Reference #: 1H9d6s

Almost 40 beginning teachers started in junior classes around Auckland this year as part of a new pilot to help meet the city’s supply needs, help the new teachers gain invaluable career experience and identify the things that help them stay in the profession. Education Gazette spoke to some of those involved in the Ministry of Education and Auckland Primary Principals’ Association project.

When new teaching graduate Renee Leckner stood in front of her Maraetai Beach School class for the first time, the words of her mentor rang in her ears: “Take a deep breath and relax”.

The 21-year-old is one of 38 provisionally registered primary teachers starting in year 0–4 classrooms throughout Auckland this year as part of the new Beginning Teacher Project.

Under the project, teachers are shadowed by experienced teachers for six months and then supported through to full certification. In return, they commit to teaching continuously at the school for at least two years.

For Renee, this meant regular meetings with her mentor and Maraetai’s junior school team leader, Kate Deane, during the summer holidays.

“Kate was able to clarify things for me: assessments; the way writing, reading and maths lessons are run. It meant there was a lot less stress and I felt really well prepared when class started.”

However, standing in front of her year 1 students for the first time was still “nerve-wracking”. “But it was awesome, I enjoyed every minute.”

So, were any of her 21 young pupils – most who only had a couple of months at school last year – upset to be back at school after the holidays?

“There were no tears on day one. Not from me either!”

Teaching such young children involved specific techniques which Kate helped her develop. When they are upset it was about comforting them and sitting them close to her “like their mother would do”, says Renee.

Kate had also shown her how to give extra attention and encouragement to the kids that need more help meeting National Standards reading. And she’d taught her the benefit of doing an interactive, physical exercise before sitting down for a writing lesson.

“With such young kids there’s lots of expectation setting and planning out the day.”

Getting the best start

Maraetai Beach principal Mark Keenan says the Beginning Teacher Project provides new graduates with the best start to their teaching careers.

“It’s a really supportive environment. They are working alongside an experienced teacher and that’s invaluable. Renee will take part in team teaching, and receive ongoing observation and feedback on her practice. It’s much more in-depth training and support.”

With six years teaching at the school on the Pohutukawa Coast under her belt – and six years teaching performing arts before that – Kate felt like she had enough experience to become a mentor.

“We talk endlessly about everything but I guess my best advice was in an email that said: ‘Take a deep breath and relax. As a teacher, it can consume you but it’s important to find your balance’.”

Having her mentor in the classroom provides a lot of flexibility, says Renee.

“Kate can release me to watch other teachers or assess lessons. She’s always there and always available. She knows the students really well so I don’t have to relay every detail about them when there’s an issue.”

The project has given Renee and the school security – particularly because it’s harder to attract new teachers halfway through the school year, says Mark.

Continuity at the school is important, he says, especially for new entrants and their families, as well as their siblings who come through in subsequent years.

It’s all about timing

The $24,000 grant given to each school that takes part in the project allows schools to pay for both the mentor and new teacher to work side by side for the first six months, he says.

“Without that funding, I couldn’t afford to employ Renee from the start of the year.”

The growing roll at the 270-student school means that by mid-year there will be an additional new entrants’ class that Kate will move into, while Renee will remain with the class she started in.

“It allows Renee to be supported and ensures I can get the best possible person for that roll growth classroom.”

Auckland Primary Principals’ Association secretary and principal of Ormiston Primary School, Heath McNeil, says the project focuses on new entrants because it is a specialist area and is a particular experience that principals are often looking for.

His school is also part of the project with beginning teacher Sheree Blake moving from Wellington to spend at least the next two years at the school in Flat Bush.

“The mentoring aspect allows the beginning teacher to see how the new entrant environment works without the start of the year pressures. After six months they can move to other parts of the junior school.”

Initiatives to retain teachers in the profession are important as without good guidance, teachers can get burn out within a few years or decide to move into other jobs, he says.

The value of the project is about timing; being able to employ the beginning teachers at the start of the year, Heath says.

“Rolls go up at the end of the year. Some schools have to look for new entrant teachers in term 3 and 4. So those graduates that missed a place in September/October were waiting another year for another position.”

Looking forward

Renee is herself a Maraetai school old girl; she attended its intermediate school. While that was a bonus for the community, Mark says he would have taken on another beginning teacher to guarantee the school could be part of the “forward thinking” project.

Renee said it didn’t feel odd now being a teacher at the school she went to, but admitted it was probably weird for some of her old teachers still there.

The Auckland University graduate says all of her classmates got teaching jobs at the end of the two-year degree, but some left Auckland.

“A few people have gone up north or back home.”

The project is part of the $9 million package announced by Education Minister Hekia Parata last August to boost the number of teachers in high-demand subjects and locations.

Heath says part of the commitment between the beginning teacher and the schools is that they participate in a full evaluation of their experience.

The lessons learned from the project can then be used to help other primary schools and teacher career development throughout the country.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 7:29 pm, 13 March 2017

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