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The commitment to teaching that beginning teachers report writing

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Why teaching? 

Tory has just landed his first full-time ongoing teaching job. The position is in a middle school in rural Australia, in a town of less than 10 000 people. He accepted the job after applying unsuccessfully for more than 40 positions in the metropolitan area close to where he completed his teacher education. With a double degree and qualifications to teach in early childhood settings and primary schools, he has won a position in a P–12 school with an enrollment of just over 300 students. The school ICSEA (Index of Community Socio Educational Advantage) is 950. Tory has had one placement in a school where he taught a multiaged class of Year 5 and 6 students. While his new position will involve teaching Year 7 and 8 students, he is feeling confident, as during his course he chose electives in integrated curriculum and science education. This school was in an area where students had a positive view of themselves and their learning. Tory had gleaned from the interview that this may not be the case in his new school. School attendance and retention were key issues that the school had identified in the school plan as key priorities over the next three years. 

Nonetheless, Tory is thrilled to have finally secured a full-time position with a regular salary and school holidays, providing time to fulfil his long-held travel plans. He has completed endless days of casual teaching and two short-term contracts of six months each, and received lots of encouragement from teachers and principals. In his last contract position, he had hoped to secure at least a one-year contract, but there was a long list of teachers who had to be reassigned in the region, and associate teachers on government-funded initiatives who were ahead of him each time a vacancy arose. He greatly appreciated the encouraging feedback he’d received from his colleagues, but it was challenging to explain to his family and friends why he was not able to secure an ongoing teaching position. 

Tory, like many people who join the teaching profession, was the first in his family to attain a degree. After all the long hours he’d spent studying while holding down a full-time position in a hardware chain, having to move away from his family and friends to take up this full-time position was not necessarily seen as a win by those close to him. Like many people who go on to become successful teachers, Tory’s choice of career was inspired by some of his own brilliant teachers. He particularly recalls his Year 3/4 teacher, Ms Rossi. Ms Rossi, he had imagined as a nine year old, was ‘pretty old’. Later, when he returned to his old primary school for a five-week professional experience, he realised that Ms Rossi had been in her early thirties when she taught him. The sorts of things he recalls her doing, and that he observed her still doing in her classroom, was the curriculum planning that included student access to a range of before-school activities. Outside the classroom were boxes of class sporting equipment, an early morning computer roster, a table in the hallway for revising and catching up on tasks, a bowl of fresh fruit that had been donated by FoodSavers, and a compost bucket for the leftovers. There was also a list of classroom monitors for general clean-up and kitchen garden duties. While he knew that he would be teaching older students, he also knew that central to the foundation for education is the need for all students to develop a sense of belonging to their school community, and strong relationships with their teacher. 


  1. What influenced you to be a teacher? 
  2. Think about how you remember your school teachers. How would you like your students to think of you? 
  3. How are expert and beginning teachers similar and different? 
  4. Consider how culture and family impact on education. 
  5. What career progression and leadership options are available for teachers today?


The commitment to teaching that beginning teachers like Tory bring to their studies and their careers affirms that teachers today — as those who have gone before them — have a love of learning and a genuinely felt passion for teaching. An enthusiasm for learning and a deep commitment to humanity and making a difference in the lives of the next generation are among the qualities of people drawn to a career in teaching. The authors of this text welcome you to the profession and what is ahead. 

As you browse through this text, some chapters or headings may immediately jump out at you based on your current understanding of what it means to learn to teach. Initially you may think that all you need to know is something about student learning, planning and managing classroom behaviour. However, from the moment you first enter a school as a teacher and take a look at twenty-first century education from the other side of the desk, so to speak, the complexity and extent of the range of knowledge required to be a highly skilled teacher will become apparent. 

This chapter (outlined in the diagram below) will introduce you to teaching as a profession and, we hope, provide you with a starting point from which to explore the many themes presented in this text. This text is designed to support you and help you develop throughout your initial teacher education and your early teaching years. You will also be exploring the big questions about the purposes of education and your professional identity, values and beliefs and how you can shape your career as a leader in education. When you arrive at your first class at a school, take a few minutes to consider why so many people retain powerful memories of their teachers. Years later, a particular teacher may still be recalled with respect and admiration. For some students, a teacher is remembered as someone who helped them completely turn their lives around. In the words of an experienced teacher and teacher educator, ‘Whatever the situation, the influence teachers have on their students is long lasting and can be profound. Good teaching makes a difference in the lives of children and young people’ (Pugach 2009, p. 1). Through school and classroom experiences, students discover possibilities for their futures, gain the knowledge and skills to pursue their hopes and dreams, and develop beliefs, attitudes and behaviours towards society. Consider the experiences of a pre-service teacher, recounted next. The narrative describes the initial experiences of a pre-service teacher and is a snapshot of how an accomplished and outstanding teacher works in today’s classrooms, which are rich in student diversity.

How did Ly’s teacher become accomplished? When teachers and schools do their jobs well, students from all life circumstances, in every community, attain their potential. The day-to-day choices and judge ments teachers make directly affect the quality of learning that takes place and also the lives of their students. In other words, good teaching matters — it matters a great deal. Once you make the commit ment to teach, you agree to take responsibility for the quality of the experiences each of your students will have in your classroom during formative times of their lives and to honour the richness that is in every classroom.

LEARNING OBJECTIVE 1.1 Describe teaching as a twenty-first century profession.

Research in education endorses the idea that there is no single variable that improves student achievement more than the introduction of a great teacher. Teacher quality and teaching quality go hand in hand. ‘Teacher quality — what teachers do’ (Riley 2009, p. 7) comprises the identity of the teacher, their knowledge and their ability to develop strong skills in pedagogy, content and theory in order to plan for the learning of all students. ‘Teaching quality — what students learn’ (Riley 2009, p. 7) focuses on the teaching and learning that teachers put in place on a daily basis to improve student achievement. Teaching quality is dependent on:

  • the personalisation of learning and respect for diverse learners
  • building positive student–teacher learning relationships
  • the capacity to implement curriculum relevant to the twenty-first century
  • the continuous monitoring and evaluation of student learning.

This text is designed to help you become a high-quality teacher who practises teaching in accordance with professional standards and through an ethic of respect and care. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) provides national leadership for the Australian, state and territory governments for the teaching professional and school leadership. The website will provide you with a wealth of ideas and information about the profession of teaching that will guide you through both your initial preparation and throughout your career in teaching or leadership of teaching. The aim of this text is also to support you to develop a critical perspective on learning and teaching and on the professional theories you will encounter during your studies and your work. A critical perspective is a way of viewing information, ideas and practices that refuses to take them for granted. This also involves critical self-reflection and self-evaluation to find any ‘blind spots’ that we may overlook due to our worldview and background. Coming to know your blind spots, examples of which may be your whiteness or resistance to other viewpoints, is critical to developing your understanding of professional knowledge, practices and your identity and engagement as teacher.

The ‘apprenticeship of observation’

What do you remember of your schooling? Do you think it has shaped your views on learning and teaching? Dan Lortie, an eminent American sociologist of education, coined the term the ‘apprenticeship of observation’ (Lortie 1975, p. 61). The phrase refers to the fact that people who choose to study education begin their course having already experienced more than 12 years of continuous contact with teachers. Lortie argues that the apprenticeship of observation may lead to the assumption that ‘anyone can teach’ (p. 62). This assumption originates, in part, in the proposition that every student can make a reasonably accurate portrayal of a classroom teacher’s actions.

There is little doubt that people wanting to become teachers begin their studies with much more experience of education than a student choosing to enter some other profession. They have, however, as a student experienced only one aspect of teaching — and without an understanding of the knowledge or skill behind their teachers’ practices. It is important, therefore, that now — and indeed throughout your career — you take a critical perspective on your prior knowledge of schooling.

The notion of the apprenticeship of observation is widely used to explain the apparent lack of influence exerted by teacher education programs on teachers’ practice and may help explain the historical reluctance to invest in pedagogical research. It is crucial, however, that, as a profession, teaching possesses and articulates a high degree of specialised theoretical knowledge — and methods and techniques for applying this knowledge in day-to-day work. This also means keeping up to date with recent research and policy changes. As someone new to the study of education and teaching, you might be surprised to learn that despite much public debate regarding how best to fund education in Australia, Australian education is still funded by a model introduced by the Howard government in 2001.

Teaching as a profession, teachers as professionals

The view of teaching as a profession and of the type of knowledge and skills that teachers must possess continues to evolve. Figure 1.1, drawn from the findings of an Australian analysis of teacher education (Reid & O’Donohue 2004), illustrates how approaches to teaching and teacher education differ. Figure 1.2 shows the building blocks of professional identity and the expertise required of teachers in the twenty-first century. You will encounter these themes throughout your studies. Think ahead a year or two and, like Tory from our opening case, consider the excitement and challenges you will face in your first year of teaching. You may be aspiring to be a school curriculum or year level coordinator or a leader in community education such as a childcare centre or a not-for-profit organisation. Your course of study will help you recognise and question the loosely formed, or ‘tacit’, knowledge developed through your own experiences of education. It will help you improve your knowledge and skills throughout your career in teaching, which may end up being in a leadership role.

At this point, you are likely to be a pre-service teacher, a graduate teacher or perhaps someone just considering teaching as a career. The term pre-service teacher refers to students enrolled in a course of study intended to satisfy requirements for employment as a teacher. Graduate teacher (or beginning teacher) refers to a teacher in the first and subsequent early years of their professional life. An accomplished teacher is an educator who typically has more than five years of teaching experience and can demonstrate expert performance through tangible evidence such as a teaching portfolio or a leadership position. This professional progression is summarised in figure 1.3.

Teaching, as you might have already understood, is a dynamic profession. In the twenty-first century change is a constant and every teacher lives and learns through social and professional change. Then Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) develops national policies and high-quality tools and resources to support improvement in teaching and school learnings, and in turn student learning. On 14 October 2011, Australian education ministers endorsed the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. In 2014 a major report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers (TEMAG 2014), recommended significant changes for the preparation of pre-service teachers, including selection requirements and literacy and numeracy requirements set down for entry to the teaching profession.

The seven Australian Professional Standards for Teachers remain unchanged, but greater attention is now required to ensure that teachers in all Australian schools can identify what teachers need to know and be able to do in order to teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and to teach all students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, history and culture.

Teaching is a key focus of AITSL. Areas that are of importance to pre-service and beginning teachers include:

  • the promotion and embedding of the Australian Professional Standards for all teachers
  • high-quality induction for early career teachers
  • evaluation of the use and impact of the Teaching Standards
  • tools and resources to support teachers to engage in practices that improve learning.

Australian Teacher regulatory authorities register teachers in each state and territory. Registration requirements vary between Australian states. Although AITSL does not register teachers, they can give you information on registration, and some tools and resources to help you prepare for registration. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) career stages are defined as graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead. The AITSL website has a large section that demonstrates these career stages through illustrations of practice. To progress through these four career stages you will need to evidence your practice and growth as a teacher over time.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

The Australian Professional Standards (APS) for Teachers comprise seven standards that outline what teachers should know and be able to do (see table 1.1). The AITSL website contains detailed information on the APS and also acknowledges the crucial role of teachers in Australian society and their contribution to a high-quality education system.

Keep up to date on what is happening with teacher standards by visiting the AITSL website regularly. Like all such attempts and long-standing examples of teacher standards, such as those developed by the Ontario College of Teachers in Canada in 1997, developing teacher registration standards aims to capture the key elements of quality teaching. The APS show what teachers are expected to know and be able to do at four career stages: graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead. When you look at the Standards you will notice that they are grouped into three domains of teaching: professional knowledge, professional practice and professional engagement. However, teachers with expert professional knowledge recognise that these elements of teaching practice draw on aspects of all three domains and will overlap and interconnect.

Within each standard, focus areas provide further illustration of teaching knowledge, practice and professional engagement. These are then separated into descriptors at the four professional career stages. When you enter an accredited teaching program, by the end of your course you will be expected to meet a number of requirements. These requirements include standards for the graduate career stage; proficiency in literacy and numeracy; teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and engaging with parents and communities to teach Indigenous content in and across the Australian Curriculum.

Following graduation, provisional registration is the first step towards full registration. Once you are provisionally registered, and have started teaching, you can work towards full registration, which is against the proficient career stage of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. The timeline to achieve full registration varies, so check with your teacher regulatory authority. Beginning teachers are required to move from provisional to full registration in the early years of their career. Preparing for full registration should be aligned with and supported by your induction within a school. The Australian teacher regulatory bodies are:

  • Australian Capital Territory — Teacher Quality Institute (www.tqi.act.edu.au)
  • Australasian Teacher Regulatory Authorities (www.atra.edu.au)
  • New South Wales — NSW Education Standards Authority (http://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au)
  • Northern Territory — Teacher Registration Board of the Northern Territory (www.trb.nt.gov.au)
  • Queensland — Queensland College of Teachers (www.qct.edu.au)
  • South Australia — Teachers Registration Board of South Australia (www.trb.sa.edu.au)
  • Tasmania — Teachers Registration Board of Tasmania (www.trb.tas.gov.au)
  • Victoria — Victorian Institute of Teaching (www.vit.vic.edu.au)
  • Western Australia — Teacher Registration Board of Western Australia (www.trb.wa.gov.au).

Continuity and change
Teaching is a profession that has a long history, with traditions dating from Socrates (c. 469–399 BCE), Plato (c. 424–348 BCE) and Aristotle (c. 384–322 BCE).

Australia’s educational history is overwhelmingly influenced by Western traditions. Australia, like many other nations, has established schools, structures and education systems that maintain and contribute to our social fabric and culture. Many changes in education have been linked to major historical events or shifts, such as the two world wars and globalisation. Some of the events that have been most influential in Australian education and the educational context are listed in figure 1.4. This summary shows in brief how the Australian history of education has, in the main, been told through the colonisation of Australia, with the place of Aboriginal Australian history and education ‘whitewashed’. Darker parts of the history of education, such as the experiences of the Stolen Generations, are invisible. As Patrick Dodson says in his Foreword to The State of Reconciliation in Australia, ‘There is a discernible lack of appreciation by settler Australia about the grievances and sense of historical injustice that Indigenous people feel. This must be addressed for Australia to be reconciled’ (Reconciliation Australia 2016).

Figure 1.5 provides a snapshot of some of the changes that have occurred in approaches to teaching and learning over time. A comprehensive discussion of the history of education, and what we can learn from it, is provided in chapter 2.

Teaching matters: a new era for teaching and learning

Schooling is shaped by the past, the present and the future. So how do we embrace the future, understand our past and teach effectively now? As Deborah Britzman (2003, p. 20) has stated, learning to teach is a constant struggle between the ‘biography of the structure called schooling and the biography of the learner’. Her analysis draws attention to the extraordinarily complex nature of learning and teaching and how every learner is different. Putting the student at the centre of the learning and teaching relationship is a critical component of successful teaching, and forms the basis of the chapters in part 2 of this text. Another important building block is to plan, prepare and practise teaching based on a strong knowledge of curriculum, pedagogy, effective learning environments, technology, assessment and feedback. These topics are discussed in detail in the chapters in part 3 of this text. The final pieces of the puzzle are reflection, professionalism and transformative teaching practice, discussed in part 4 of the text. Throughout the text and across all of its topics, seven basic ideas about the learning and teaching process are evident.
1. You, like each student you will teach, are a learner.
2. While common practices among teachers exist, practices will vary from teacher to teacher.
3. Storying accounts of learning and teaching are a valid and accessible way for pre-service and graduate teachers to reflect upon various events and perspectives that inform their beliefs and decision making.

4. Conceptions of teaching taught to pre-service teachers represent contemporary theories of knowledge, but none is absolute. In time they will be replaced, revised or reformed.
5. Personal and professional beliefs arising from research, theory, experience and reflection are the drivers of ongoing change.
6. A career in teaching will involve ongoing workplace and allied professional learning.
7. In Australia, teachers have a responsibility to learn about, and include in their classrooms, respect for Indigenous peoples, including students and Indigenous knowledges. It is evident then that becoming a teacher is a commitment to lifelong learning. Consider some more words from Anthea and her colleague Mark, who is teaching in another school. These comments were made in the early weeks of their first year of teaching.

Learning in the twenty-first century

The constructivist theory of learning is one of the most debated and influential theories of education. In essence, constructivism suggests that everything a person learns is mediated by their prior experiences and understandings. This means that people build their own knowledge and understanding — they do not simply absorb what they are ‘taught’. Constructivist explanations of learning echo the contributions of well-known theorists such as Jean Piaget (1896–1980), John Dewey (1859–1952), Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934), Maria Montessori (1870–1952) and Jerome Bruner (1915–2016). These are theorists you will hear more about in your teaching studies and in the later chapters of this text.

As someone who will be a lifelong learner, it is important to commence your course of study engaging with constructivism and the associated theories that guide views about learners and learning in the twenty-first century. You need to understand that how you perceive ideas and information is substantially influenced by your past experiences and learning. Personal beliefs, once acknowledged, must be continually held up for scrutiny as learning to teach commences. The report, The State of Reconciliation in Australia (Reconciliation Australia 2016), provides educators with a working framework of five key dimensions (historical acceptance, race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity and unity) that are of immediate use in both learning about and demonstrating the significance of recognition and respect in learning for all students. You also need to know that the learning of each of your students is similarly influenced by their place-based context and social milieu. This goes to the heart of the concept of ‘teaching quality’, described earlier in the chapter. Each learner has different needs. Deborah Britzman’s (2003, p. 20) earlier stated words highlight the struggle between the ‘biography of the structure called schooling’ and the ‘biography of the learner’ and further hint at some of the issues you will meet. For example, in the 2009 admission to Australian universities, students from the lowest socieconomic quartile obtained just 15 per cent of places, and only 11 per cent were accepted at the most prestigious universities. This suggests that student achievement is affected by socioeconomic status. As
an editorial in The Age (2009) noted, ‘that is a damning disparity for a “fair go” society’. The current state of play in student equity data can be found by accessing the link at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (see http://data.ncsehe.edu.au). The state-by-state display enables comparisons to be made to illustrate that the above ratios still hold.

Education has been tasked with the challenge of building and creating futures for its citizens. While it is a given that schooling, school attendance and a rich curriculum matter, schools are only one site of childhood. Young people, including early childhood and primary school-aged students, are constantly negotiating multiple spaces of their worlds. Boocock and Scott (2005, p. 137) refer to the places between schools and neighbourhoods as ‘kids’ spheres’. Julian Sefton-Green and colleagues (Sefton-Green et al.2016) have also pointed out that children do not just learn about their world through formal education. A range of informal and non-formal learning spaces shape the engagement of young children and young people with the world through digital literacy, both online and offline. Other possible sites of learning include places such as clubs, libraries, museums and galleries. This team of researchers points to the way that, for contemporary children, online and offline boundaries are fluid, as their play and literacy practices cross physical and ‘virtual’ and material and immaterial domains. They do so in fluid and dynamic ways. When children and young people are not in school they are often found in pairs or groups of peers, and are both formally and informally learning through conscious and unconscious exchanges. Therefore, core to teachers’ work is ensuring teaching and schools include, rather than exclude, unique learner perspectives. Indeed, the ‘never-ending struggle for social justice’ (Lather & Smithies 1997, p. 50) is an issue for all Australians. This struggle is well illustrated in the educational disadvantage that continues to impact some Indigenous families.

Australia is a diverse country. It has a range of socioeconomic conditions, varied geographical and climate characteristics and it is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Indigenous knowledge and patterns of immigration have profoundly defined Australia as a nation. However, as noted earlier in this chapter, entrenched discrimination at a systemic and social level persists for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Our identity as a nation has shifted and is constantly shifting. The influence of globalisation and technological changes in particular are at the forefront of many changes. Teachers are being continually confronted by the differences between the globally ‘relevant’ and ‘irrelevant’ societies
in their classrooms (Castells 1999). These are broad factors that need to be acknowledged in teaching all learners. In addition, each learner’s unique, individual characteristics affect learning outcomes. With all this in mind, as Baird and Love (2003) state, approaches to teaching and learning that recognise constructivism often include:

  • ‘real-life’ activities
  • access to expert performance and the modelling of processes
  • multiple roles and perspectives
  • reflection
  • collaborative construction of knowledge
  • articulation of personal values and beliefs
  • coaching and scaffolding.

Since Baird and Love (2003) formulated this position, much research evidence has been generated that highlights the significance of understanding that learning is highly situated and must be continuously evaluated and refined in the context of the whole school learning environment. Changing how teaching and learning gets done is often encapsulated by the term ‘school change’, and Hall and Thomson (2017a,p. 176) suggest that inspiring and enacting school change can be thought of as a process of ‘redesign’ through the creative work of ‘redesigning’ whole schools. ‘Redesigning is a process of working on and working over existing school practices, cultures, structures and so on, so that they are (re)produced and transformed’. As a beginning teacher, you have a key role in adding new ideas and resources to schools. Hall and Thomson (2017a, p. 177) also affirm that pedagogy is at ‘the heart of redesign’.

Teachers’ work requires you to balance your students’ learning needs with your own learning, typically developed in the workplace. In essence, you will witness and juggle the contemporary debates about learning as you experience learning to teach and beginning to teach. John Holt (1964, p. 173), an American educator who coined the term ‘unschooling’, returns us to the heart of teachers’ work: Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most used in the future, it is senseless to try and teach it in advance. Instead we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned. It is in this spirit that you have taken on the task of learning to teach and teaching to learn.

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  • Posted on : January 16th, 2023
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