31 March 2011
Increasingly there is a realisation that the profile of the teaching force at whatever level best meets the needs of students if it can to a degree reflect the profile of the student population. Consequently there is an increasing interest in appointing a diverse range of people to teaching positions in education institutions.
This includes increasing the numbers of Maori and Pacific Islands teachers especially in post-secondary institutions.
At one level the solution to this dilemma is simple: “If you want them appoint them!”
But at a range of other levels the issue is quite complex and involves a very vicious circle. The progress of Maori and Pacific Islands students through the school system, through the entry requirements of tertiary education and through a first degree programme to graduation is still constrained by a whole range of issues that are well-known and need not be detailed right now and just here. The number who can then proceed to higher degrees is even more restricted by the processes that make attainment of qualifications at those higher levels a tough call for all students.
Competition is keen among those groups wanting to recruit graduates with degree and postgraduate qualifications. Teaching simply has to line up with everyone else to get these students into the profession.
So the pool of people potentially able to be teachers and who reflect the demographics, especially the groups of the under-represented and the under-served is neither wide nor deep. We could once use the word term “minority groups” to describe the groups from which we wanted to see increased representation in the teaching force but this makes little sense as the birth cohort in Auckland now has a majority of babies born into the Maori and Pacific Islands communities, a trend which will eventually be a national one.
As long as the population trends grow more steeply and more quickly that the increase in educational attainments we shall fail to achieve the teaching forces in schools and tertiary institutions that truly reflect the people of this nation.
These are international trends and no country has yet provided an effective response to the challenge.
But I also think that there needs to be a re-assessment of ethnicity as a quality that should be taken note of in the recruitment of teachers. If we were to see experience as a really important factor in the basket of skills, knowledge, aspirations and dispositions that people bring with them into a teaching position (and we would claim that we do) then the experience of being from this or that ethnic group is surely an important element in the things that qualify people for a position, or make them the strongest applicant, or adds that extra something that interview and appointment panels seek.
Similarly in a linguistically diverse community surely additional notice should be taken of the ability to bring more than one language into a position. The experience of being bilingual is not simulated through simply learning a foreign language for a few years and the authentic experience of the bilingual person must give them an edge in working with bilingual students.
And this is what all this is about – an edge. Many people will have the basic qualifications and qualities to be a teacher, but educational institutions seek to put before their students, people who have this and an edge. It could be a special empathy with students or an outstanding ability to pass on the excitement of a discipline. But it could also be an affinity with particular ethnic groups, a skill in the language of another group, a life experience that makes understanding the experience of others more acute.
This edge in fact becomes in itself something of a qualification to teach. Perhaps the teachers we need are out there but our search capability is using too narrow a telescope.