Does School Placement in Primary Teacher Training serve its purpose?

Every serving qualified teacher in Ireland will have undertaken School Placement (previously called Teaching Practice) as a partial requirement for their teaching qualification. Experiences during this placement will vary. If there is one prominent trait that I have noticed from my own previous experience as well as from having spoken to others in the same boat, it is inconsistency.

A School Placement Tutor assesses the student teacher, after all, the placement is technically an examination. When correcting or assessing an examination, a marking rubric or an assessment checklist should be used to ensure fairness and consistency. I have no doubt that such a checklist or rubric is supposed to be used when assessing a student teacher on placement, however what strikes me is how the tutor’s own subjectivity and personal preferences can play a part in the overall feedback or grade. Continue reading

Interviews for Undergraduate Primary Teacher Training

Student teachers (primary) in Ireland who train at Bachelor’s degree level traditionally begin their courses following the Leaving Certificate. At the age of 17 or 18, they transition from secondary school directly into one of Ireland’s teacher training colleges – (Marino Institute of Education;  DCU Institute of Education; the Froebel Department at Maynooth University; and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick). Entry is based on achieving a minimum standard across certain subjects and achieving a minimum amount of CAO points. Points for entry into these training courses range from the mid-400s upwards and are therefore competitive.

This raises the question – is doing well enough in the Leaving Certificate sufficient to determine the suitability of a teacher training candidate? I will examine this question.

It is firstly necessary to look at the system for entry into teacher training programmes at postgraduate level. The main difference is that it doesn’t depend on minimum points in the Leaving Certificate, although it does require a minimum standard across certain subjects. Instead, it is based on the outcome of an interview through English and an interview through Irish (to determine language competency). This gives the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) centres a glimpse into the mindset and suitability of each applicant, giving a clearer understanding as to whether they would be suited to a course of teacher training or not.

The interview is by no means a perfect system for assessing suitability, however in the absence of an alternative, I would recommend it for entry into an ITE centre. This raises the next question – why is it necessary?

The answer is straightforward – not everybody at the age of 17 or 18 is sure about what they would like to do for the rest of their working lives (although some are). Some may enter an undergraduate course having experienced little else other than formal schooling and maybe some sports or musical experience. These experiences in themselves are quite valuable and can give some indicators as to where a future career might lie, but might not be completely telling of suitability to a chosen path. Instead of gaining entry into an ITE centre with just the required Leaving Certificate outcome, an interview system could help both ITE centres and prospective students alike to ensure that the correct choice has been made; that the candidate is serious about what lies ahead and is ready to embark on a career in teaching; and to accept the responsibilities which go hand in hand with that choice.

This, of course, would require interviewers to be completely objective in their determinations. That is an article for another day.