Great teachers come from all kinds of backgrounds – and sometimes even via non-traditional paths. This is the thinking that underpins the
Career Change program,
a state government
initiative giving experienced members of the wider workforce the opportunity to bring their life learning to the teaching profession, offering them a secure new career path and addressing
skills shortages in the teaching workforce.
In operation since 2005, the program was developed in partnership with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and Victoria University. It trains suitable candidates over two years to become
fully qualified teachers, duly recognised by the Institute.
The Program is one of a range of recruitment initiatives that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development currently has in operation to meet the staffing needs of Victorian
government schools, particularly in rural and remote areas and in hard to staff subjects. Other initiatives include
Teach For Australia,
Special Education Scholarships
refresher courses for returning teachers.
The Department also hosts the Teacher Supply and Demand Reference Group, with all major Victorian stakeholders represented, which is a forum for the consideration and coordination of teacher
workforce planning matters across the government, independent and Catholic sectors.
Dr Jim Tangas, Manager of Research and Workforce Planning in the Department highlights the unique nature of the Program:
“This program is the original employment-based pathway into teaching in Australia. It is fully funded by the Department and provides an intensive pre-service course followed by two
years of on the job training leading to a teaching qualification.”
A defining feature of the program is that it is demand-based. That is, it fills vacancies that have been identified by individual hard-to-staff schools. It helps find the right candidate,
gets them the right training, and places them in a school with a need. It has worked well in country schools where the person is known in the community already, has roots, and tends to stay.
Generally, schools will advertise for a qualified professional, perhaps with a trade or science background. Sometimes, particularly in rural areas, the schools actually have an ideal candidate
in mind – for instance the local plumber, pharmacist or agriculturalist – someone who is known in the community or has been involved in the life of the school.
Mark Newton is the Senior Project Officer in Research and Workforce Planning. A major focus of his role is assisting schools to recruit into their hard-to-staff areas. He gives an overview of
how the program operates:
“We advertise in August. Schools do the interview and selection and the VIT checks their qualifications. Victoria University has provided alternative teaching pathway programs, built
into their existing programs. On average the program accepts about 30 participants each year.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that participants in the program are more likely to assume leadership positions within the school. They’ve been successful in their field. Now they
want to help teach the next generation.
“The demographic is predominantly over 35, normally with families and mortgages, looking for stability, and very motivated. Some women, after having children, have seen it as a way to
break back into a career. We’ve seen a large number in the technical areas, but really there is quite a range. For instance, hospitality trades are on the increase, due to demand
generated by schools.”
Apart from helping address staff shortages, what has been the effect on schools?
“In a number of cases it has been instrumental in rejuvenating not only the curriculum, but even the whole school. We’ve seen a woodwork teacher who has brought new ideas into
the school’s technology area, and numbers have gone up. People with an engineering background have come in to teach maths – bringing innovation and creativity into the teaching,
but also making it more REAL.
A building professional has come in and his students are building a yacht. Another one has had kids building skateboards. Another developed online teaching in their subject area, linking schools.
“These are people who are not confined by the classroom.”
What attracts these people to the program?
“They are often the only technological person in the school. One female participant has come in and been given the responsibility for establishment, development and coordination of the
school’s brand new technology wing, in her first year of teaching, while learning to be a teacher.”
The greatest demand for candidates has been in technology-based subject areas. Typical reasons for this include ageing faculties, shutting down of technical schools and subsequent loss of
technology teachers to TAFE colleges, plus the advantage of government technology grants. Through this program, schools are getting the chance to recruit new blood.
Candidates generally arrive in schools mid-November, and have their orientation during this period. They attend an intensive pre-service summer school in December and January at Victoria
University, before reporting back at their school for day one of first term. During that period they obtain their Permission to Teach. Term One is mainly a period of team teaching, and by
Term Two they move to general supervision, which sees them teaching with basic oversight by a mentor or subject area leader.
The Victorian Institute of Teaching obtains documentation of the candidates’ experience and qualifications to determine eligibility and establish appropriate teaching areas for them.
If there is a shortfall in qualifications, the Institute specifies what units they need to study, and coordinates with Victoria University to work out a study pattern. The process is closely
monitored, and the Institute’s Standards and Professional Learning and Registration and Accreditation branches go out to the university and talk to the cohort, helping them through the process.
Bonding among the groups is important, whether through weekend classes or in a chat room via their online lectures. Candidates get together and share ideas about their experiences, asking the
kinds of question they might be too embarrassed to ask in their schools for fear of seeming naïve. This can be very important, because while some have had experience training apprentices, or have
coached local sporting teams, for others the classroom environment or the experience of dealing with a principal might present very new challenges.
From Mark Newton’s perspective, the feedback has been positive:
“We’ve had 12 schools already wanting to join before it’s been publicised for this year, which is half the cohort.
“A lot of schools have come back year after year, some for an extra teacher in that area, because they now have more demand at the school for that subject. Some schools are finding their
own teachers to go through the program because maybe they don’t fit into a priority subject or geographical area.
“In general, the schools and individuals have been positive. It’s like a calling. They want to be teachers. They enjoy the camaraderie.”
Cobden Technical School is an excellent example of the Career Change program in its element. One of the few technical schools by name remaining in the system, it runs a range of VET programs and,
according to principal Peter Rock, came to a crisis point six or seven years ago when it addressed the problem of an ageing technical teaching force:
“We were getting to the point where it was an empty bucket. Who to replace them? We were growing as a school, so we decided to identify people we wanted in the community and sponsor them to
take up teacher training.
“These people have incredible life experience, in a diversity of career paths, with first rate, recent, relevant industrial experience.
“In all, we’ve had nine teachers go through the program: from plumbers and welders to an environmental engineer, a financial planning accountant, a journalist and a musician.
“They have bedded down all the stuff they needed and now are readymade leaders. Two are Leading Teachers already. Because their paths to success have been many and varied, they offer
terrific role modelling for the kids, and for us, they have a wider significance. They were already part of our community, and understand that the school’s success is critical to the
community, and owned by the community.
“In the six years since we started the program, we have grown by a third and a demographic where less kids are available – roughly 20% less in the catchment area. We now run all
our VET programs on site.
The program has clearly had an effect on the viability and longevity of the school.”
At Yarrawonga Secondary College, the music program has clearly benefitted. The school has taken on three new teachers as part of the Career Change program, including two who were already working
at the school as music instructors. Principal Scott Dellar describes an immediate and measurable impact:
“The program has been absolutely sensational. They’ve gone from strength to strength as teachers, and we have seen a music program which has been running on a 60 student participation
rate with no real pathway to further education, grow to the stage now where 160 students are doing instrumental music. That’s one out of three students in the school.
“We’ve now got a high level school band with an excellent reputation in the community, and our music program is one of the most exemplary in the region. We have bands running every
second lunch time in the common area, and our school band is out there playing at community forums for the elderly, at the agricultural show and at clubs in the area.
“The teachers are on a pathway of progression, and they’ll end up as Leading Teachers and could well go further. We’re looking at another Career Change candidate next year in
the Maths area.
“We’ve had incredible outcomes from the program.”
The future of the program looks bright according to Dr Tangas, with future intakes funded by the Victorian government for 2011 and 2012 and the current Commonwealth Government indicating that it
would fund a similar program nationally beyond that period.
“As long as the program continues to meet the needs of hard-to-staff schools, I think it will continue to be supported by governments.”
More information about the Career Change program