Train rural teachers on the ground

professor-john-halseyEven with better funding, rural schools would still face a fundamental lack of properly prepared and engaged teaching staff and leaders, according to a Flinders University academic.

Professor John Halsey (pictured), Sidney Myer Chair in Rural Education and Communities, is calling for a funded, semester-length rural placement for all final-year pre-service teachers and aspiring leaders.

Professor Halsey says that for country schools and communities, attracting and retaining high quality teachers and educational leaders is an ongoing problem.

“Increasing funding for rural, regional and remote schools without addressing the availability of top-level professionals to staff these schools will not close the gap between urban and rural opportunities and outcomes,” Professor Halsey said.

“We cannot hope to just rely on financial incentives to staff country schools, particularly those in remote areas and small towns and communities.”

Professor Halsey said the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling offers a generational opportunity to radically change the way teachers and principals are educated and prepared for working and living outside the cities.

“It’s time to immerse aspiring educational leaders in rural ‘place’, and properly fund and support them to deeply engage with real issues, a diversity of contexts and relevant, challenging theory before they are appointed,” he said.

“Current practice is like training pilots to fly planes but never letting them take to the sky.”

He said evaluation of the Flinders 2011 Extended Rural Placement Program clearly showed major gains for rural schools, communities and individuals from a ‘full-on immersion’ approach.

“Being located in a rural school and community continuously for a semester had a marked impact on the seven pre-service teachers, notwithstanding having to relocate to the country and live on a modest budget while continuing to meet their other academic commitments,” he said.

“All are now employed, five of them in rural schools, three of which hosted the students for their rural placements,” he said.

The students reported that the importance of relationships and the building of relationships was emphasised by their placement. Several reported their confidence was bolstered by the experience, with the benefits from teacher mentors rated especially highly.

“Providing a real choice for pre-service teachers and aspiring leaders to live, learn and work in a rural community before they graduate will advance one of the foundation pillars of Australia – vibrant productive rural communities,” Professor Halsey said.

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