Watching student teachers become professionals is one of the joys of Paul Willis’s job.
And he should know – he was a teacher in Christian, independent and state schools for over 20 years before working with student teachers at QUT and, since 2013, at CHC. Paul is the Coordinator of 4th Year Students in all of the Bachelor of Education courses at CHC, and also leads the Internship program for Primary and Secondary Education students. This program allows the students to undertake a six-week intensive practical placement in a school as the final unit in their degree.
It is in addition to, and differs from, the four compulsory PEP (Practical Experience Program) placements required for teacher registration. Internship students do not require full-time supervision, and in many cases are given sole responsibility for teaching classes whilst their mentor assists students requiring individual attention.
With a focus on the quality, rather than quantity, of students, the program is yielding significant results with most of this year’s graduating students already securing offers of full-time employment for 2016 (at time of writing). Many of the employment opportunities arise from the internship school, with the schools taking the opportunity to see the students in action for an extended period to assess their skills and cultural fit.
The students also use the internship strategically: either to place themselves in a school they would ultimately like to work at, and therefore be seen by a network of potential employers, or perhaps sample an alternative setting (eg. regional or remote) to test their skills and capability under different conditions.
Paul sees the development of student teachers as a partnership between the student, the training institution (CHC) and the host school. In contrast to the larger universities’ programs, Paul visits each school personally at least once or twice during the internship period, to ensure that the relationship remains strong and that the student, the teacher and the school, are gaining the most from the engagement.
He maintains strong personal connections with site coordinators (often a Deputy Principal) and the mentor teachers, ensuring that the program continues to adapt to the individual requirements, culture and circumstances of each school.
“Talking to the mentors and to the interns, I experience an incredible sense of purpose and anticipation,” says Paul. “They are all so ready to begin teaching. I haven’t heard one negative comment from a mentor or intern. It is such an incredible privilege to be part of such rich and reflective conversations.”
The internship model assisted graduate teacher Shannon Alexander to prepare for life as a teacher. She recently commenced as a Year 6 teacher at Brisbane Christian College, having completed her internship unit at the school in late 2015. Shannon valued the opportunity to be mentored and to experience the regular patterns of school life. She also benefited greatly from the interactions with her fellow teachers within her year group cohort, and across the primary school.
Shannon was given the responsibility by her mentor to teach as a sole teacher – an invaluable experience and a chance to test her skills and preparation. She also learnt more about school administration, collating resources and the day-to-day experience of life as a teacher.