10 SES 09 C, Beyond Mainstream Education and Becoming a Teacher
The rapid expansion of senior secondary participation over the last three decades on a global scale has led to a proliferation of literature interrogating young people's progression through, and transition from secondary education to further study and work. In Australia, successive policy reforms aimed at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have led to a proliferation of Flexible Learning Programs (FLPs) designed to provide crucial support for young people from at risk, disadvantaged, or marginalized backgrounds. A recent report (te Riele 2014) found over 900 such programs operate across Australia, servicing the diverse needs of some 70,000 young people annually. These programs operate in a variety of formal and informal settings, often requiring context specific specialized educational practices to support the individual learning needs of their students. Significantly, the report identified the quality and expertise of the teachers working alongside a network of social and health practitioners as at the heart of their success in providing timely interventions for young people enrolled in FLPs (te Riele 2014). This approach has also found considerable support in the UK (Gutherson, et al. 2011), and across the EU more generally (UNESCO, 2015).
Within this context, this paper explores the experiences of pre-service teachers who have undertaken an immersion experience in an FLP, working with at risk youth within Victoria, Australia. As part of an innovative subject within their initial teacher preparation, the pre-service teachers explore the challenges and opportunities of working with disengaged youth in programs which operate outside of mainstream education. The paper explores their motivations, expectations and experiences and identifies how this experience will inform their future classroom practice.
The paper engages theoretically with te Riele's (2014) suggestion that it is the educators in these spaces which make the most significant difference to young people's lives, yet recognises that within the diverse network of FLPs operating both in Australia and more broadly, there is no explicit method for working with, and training teachers to work in these complex and challenging settings. Te Riele (2014) argues that such a method might usefully be conceived and delivered within pre-service teacher education programs in the first instance, as this has the potential to benefit not only young people enrolled in FLPs, but also inform how early career educators engage and interface with disengaged young people in mainstream school settings.
This paper also draws on the seminal work of Noddings (1992), who identified the need to position young people as a 'subject of care' as a fundamental tenant of reforming educational spaces to meet the specific needs of disadvantaged and disengaged learners. However, as Slee (2011) has noted, too often, well-intentioned educators have unwittingly operated to reinforce divisions between young people most in need of flexible learning environments by promoting themselves as reengaging 'troubled' or 'delinquent' youth. Smyth et al (2013) suggest there is a danger in fixed notions of educational disadvantage and that a radical rethink of new ‘assemblages’ (Fenwick and Landri 2012) is long overdue.
The objective of the paper is to respond to the deficit in focused research into FLPs and the affordances for both alternative and mainstream schools in sharing best practice. This paper provides a unique overview of the complex and challenging context of alternative learning settings through the eyes of pre-service teachers. This paper draws interesting parallels and distinctions with international research on FLPs providing first-hand accounts of pre-service teacher experiences within an Australian perspective. It is hoped this research will contribute to the study of flexible and alternative learning by providing much needed perspectives into how teacher preparation programs can best prepare teachers for more than just mainstream education.
This paper draws upon a qualitative narrative study of fifteen pre-service teachers engaged in their final semester of Masters-level study in Melbourne, Australia. The participants for this research project were recruited from a Master of Teaching pre-service teacher preparation program in Victoria, Australia. Recruitment of participants was carried out through a general email to all twenty-eight students enrolled in an elective subject with 15 agreeing to take part in this research. Of the 15 participants, thirteen are female and two are male. Their ages range from 23 to 45 years of age. Participants engaged in a one-hour semi-structured interview with the first author of this paper. Each of the interviews was transcribed in full, and the researchers engaged in thematic analysis to identify key themes and concepts both within, and across participant narratives. Using a narrative inquiry approach (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000), the researchers sought to examine the pre-service teachers’ experiences of working alongside experienced educators and young people in the FLP. The researcher placed an emphasis on how each participant storied their motivations, expectations, and future practice about the young people and the learning climate of the FLP where they completed their immersion experience. The interview sought to explore how pre-service teachers understand the role of alternative and flexible learning settings, and their motivations, expectations and experiences of the immersion experience. The interview also explored what insights the pre-service teachers gained from their experiences and how this may inform their future classroom practice.
Themes emerging from the interviews suggests that pre-service teachers place significant emphasis on the importance of student voice and student agency in FLPs, which is commonly contrasted to its absence in mainstream settings. Consistent with recent scholarship (Fielding 2004, Holdsworth 2005, Woodman & Wyn 2013), participants outlined the value of fostering student voice and agency for developing a positive orientation to school for young people. One key finding from this research is that through engaging in the immersion experience, participants felt that they needed additional support in facilitating greater voice and autonomy in their future practice. For the participants, this approach was seen to empower the young people, often for the very first time in their learning journey. The stories that the participants tell about their experiences highlight how teaching in FLPs is heavily reliant on identifying the individual needs of learners, and being adaptable in meeting those needs. Many participants commented on the 'little things' (Johnson 2008) that teachers did, such as holding informal conversations, assessing readiness to learn before beginning a day's activities, and working with a case approach to each student's needs. Many participants felt that the skills required to facilitate these activities were missing from their pre-service teacher education course. All participants suggested the importance of positive student teacher relationships within flexible learning settings. Whilst this is consistent with what the literature suggests regarding teaching in mainstream settings, it also highlights the added importance of taking the time to build relationships when working with vulnerable or potentially at-risk young people. As this paper argues, providing immersive experiences for pre-service teachers beyond mainstream settings has the capacity to better prepare them for future employment in FLPs, whilst having the added advantage of assisting them to productively engage with at-risk young people in their future practice.
Fielding, M. (2004). ‘New Wave’ student voice and the renewal of civic society, London Review, 2:3, 197- 217. Fenwick, T. & Landri, P. (2012). Materialities, textures and pedagogies: socio-materialities in education. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 20, 1:2, 1-7. Hayes, D. (2012). Re-engaging marginalised young people in learning: The contribution of informal learning and community-based collaborations. Journal of Education Policy, 27:5, 641-653. Holdsworth, R. (2005). Taking young people more seriously means giving them serious things to do. In (Eds) Mason, J. & Fattore, T. Children taken seriously in theory, policy and practice, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Johnson, B. (2008). Teacher- student relationships which promote resilience at school: A micro-level analysis of students’ views. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 36:4, 385-398. Lamb, S, Jackson, J, Walstab, A & Huo, S (2015), Educational Opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out, Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute, Melbourne. Mills, M., Renshaw, P. & Zipin, L. (2013). Alternative education provision: A dumping ground for ‘wasted lives’ or a challenge to the mainstream? Social Alternatives, 32:2, 13-18. Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press. Slee, R. (2011). The irregular school: Exclusion, schooling and inclusive education. London: Routledge. Smyth , J., McInerney, P. & Fish, T. (2013). Blurring the boundaries: from relational learning towards a critical pedagogy of engagement for disengaged disadvantaged young people. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 21:2, 299-320. te Riele, K. (2014). Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible learning programs in Australia. Final report. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. UNESCO (2015). Rethinking Education: Toward a global common good?. Paris: UNESCO. Woodman, D & Wyn, J. (2013) Youth Policy and Generations: Why Youth Policy Needs to ‘Rethink Youth’, Social Policy and Society, 12:2, 265-75.
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