Fast-tracked teachers thriving in the classroom

Graduate says govt-funded course solid preparation for work in low-decile school.

By Steve Deane

Leonie Wethey enjoys teaching in Glen Innes. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Leonie Wethey enjoys teaching in Glen Innes. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Having grown up in Christchurch and attended a largely Pakeha high school, Leonie Wethey finds she learns as much from the predominantly Pasifika students at Tamaki College as they learn from her.

Miss Wethey is one of 16 teachers participating in a flagship education programme that places university graduates with qualifications in high-priority subjects, such as maths, science and English, into lower-decile schools after just an eight-week training period. “It’s the best thing I’ve done,” she said.

“I can’t even say how satisfying this whole thing has been. I came into it expecting to find it a really amazing experience but it has just been so rewarding. It really pushes you out of your comfort zone. It’s great to come home and you’ve done something you’re really proud to do.

“I think I’ve learned as much from the students as they have from me. It’s definitely a different feeling than Christchurch. That was probably one of the biggest learnings coming into the school.

TeachFirst NZ, funded by the Ministry of Education and a range of private sponsors, aims to reduce educational inequalities. A report by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) found the first intake of 16 teachers — selected from 261 applicants — had added significant value to the schools in which they were placed.

The report found that while many of the teachers had initially found behaviour management challenging, they soon developed strong relationships with the students.

The teachers raised student performance and compared favourably to other new teachers.

The principals of the participating Auckland and Northland schools had unanimously found the teachers to be performing “extremely well”, the report said.

“Our experience as a school reflects much of the NZCER findings,” said Aorere College principal Patrick Drumm. “Our two participants are adding significant value to the Aorere community, and the opportunity for current staff to act formally as mentors is an additional strength of the programme.”

An English and Psychology graduate from Canterbury University who has taught English in Korea, Miss Wethey, 26, said her undergraduate degrees had proved extremely useful in the classroom. While her English degree helped with her core function as an English teacher, her psychology training helped provide an insight into students’ behaviour.

“Training your mind to understand why people are acting in different ways and function certain behaviours is a real asset.”

The eight-week Summer Initial Intensive training programme had been full-on, but prepared her well for entering the classroom.

“We were trained to expect what we were experiencing. We were well prepared and that did help.

“Definitely starting at the beginning there were challenges but in those times it is just about holding on and keeping sight of why you are doing what you are doing.”

The programme, in the second year of an initial four-year trial, aims to place 60 new teachers a year in classrooms by 2018.

TeachFirst NZ

• Programme places university graduates in classrooms at low-decile schools after just eight weeks of training.

• 16 teachers selected from 261 applicants in 2013.

• Report finds teachers’ performance compares favourably with other new teachers.

• Programme’s teachers initially struggled with behaviour management but then developed strong relationships with students and raised student achievement.

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