Friday afternoon. Last period. A time when teachers lucky enough not to be on a scheduled class can attempt to tie up the loose ends which seem to grow even as you tie them up. One assessment task is set, distributed, completed, collected, marked… another is on the horizon. One student needs advice about subject choices or how to deal with an issue troubling them, you try to help them sort it, another one appears next week. As with so many workplaces whose prime focus is people, a teacher’s work is never truly done. Even at the end of a school year I never truly feel that “mission accomplished” feeling as there are so many could-haves and would-haves and might-have-beens.

Friday afternoon. Last period. After wrestling with a couple of loose … let’s call them loose middles rather than ends… I decided to bite the bullet and begin the pre-application phase of the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards’ (BOSTES) process for becoming a Professionally Accomplished teacher. For those outside of my home state and those outside of education, all teachers who have taught for the first time since 30 September 2004 are known as “New Scheme Teachers” – which surely needs to be changed soon as we’ll celebrate a decade of “new” scheme teachers this year – and need to both maintain ongoing professional development and complete reports on their progress every 5 years. (This is after 2 years of being a Graduate, then moving to Proficient level after a report is successfully submitted.)

As I’m coming to the end of my 5 year “maintenance period” my Assistant Principal and I decided it may be an idea to attempt to move through the process of becoming accredited at the higher standards of Professional Accomplishment (for me) and Professional Leadership (for him). These levels of teacher accreditation – in my eyes – reflect the requirements and responsibilities of our respective roles as indicated in the standards.

At this point I do feel the need to point out two things:

  1. Accreditation at higher levels is – at the moment of writing – not compulsory nor necessary for career advancement in the vast majority of schools in NSW. Some schools/systems are moving to a salary structure which requires similar forms of accreditation, but only within that school or system, not via BOSTES.
  2. Accreditation at these higher levels both reflects and requires demonstrable ability to complete a significant range of tasks as part of one’s practice. As I ticked boxes to indicate that, yes, I am able to apply a teaching program to my own practice (and so on) I was reminded on each page that I should have documented evidence available to prove it.

The first point annoys me. As a New Scheme Teacher, I am required – as all my colleagues since 2004 are – to go through significant administrative hoops to be employed and to be successful in the profession. Whilst I believe in raising the standards of teaching, I don’t think that a system based purely on documentation is either time efficient or of great value for the teacher. To ask an early career teacher to spend significant amounts of energy metadocumenting needs time and ongoing mentoring and support to be worth anything at all. Anecdotally, few early career teachers are part of a structured, supportive and time-generous program to assist them in completing this legally binding process. Naturally, it’s more annoying that noone who started teaching before 30 September 2004 has to do so. There are rumblings that this might change, but for now the situation is – to put it simply – unfair.

The second point confuses me slightly. If we are – in theory – required to achieve the accreditation level commensurate with our current role (say, a subject coordinator) but we already have that role.. why would we feel compelled to become accredited? We’re doing it already. On the other hand, if one requires to be accredited at a particular level before applying for a position of responsibility (and if some of those skills can only be genuinely demonstrated and reasonably expected whilst having that responsibility) how is it possible for the average teacher to qualify?

I can accept that many of the boxes I ticked yesterday – the majority in fact – reflect tasks most teachers would do as part of a typical fulltime load, there were some that did not. Some of them would in fact be the sole responsibility of those WITH responsibility. My point being, if teachers in their first 5 years as a “Proficient” teacher are not made aware of the kinds of tasks and abilities they will need to demonstrate to achieve higher accreditation, they will not be eligible to do so. Sure enough, it’s not usual for a teacher in their first 7 years of teaching to hold a position of responsibility so leaders need to give their teachers – all of them – the opportunity to mentor, train and/or support others in a range of areas so that when they, like me, are heading towards the end of their first 5 year Professional Competence / Proficient Teacher period, they are not disadvantaged simply for doing their job well and not realising they should be doing more.

So whilst I have no idea whether I will be told I am a suitable candidate for moving into the application process (yes – it costs $65 to potentially be told you aren’t suitable) I’m hoping that having a position of some responsibility in a school for just over a year will put me in a good position. But what about my amazing colleagues who are outstanding classroom practitioners but who don’t have the requirement, nor the allocated time, to act in a position of responsibility? Hopefully, I can be the guinea pig that reminds them to check out the standards and requirements well before they intend to move up in the brave new profession.