If you wanted more proof the “those who can’t do, teach” mantra is irrelevant, take a look at the new federal government proposals for aspiring teachers.

Anyone wanting to study education must provide a written statement on his or her suitability, undergo interviews about emotional intelligence and provide suitable evidence of an aptitude for teaching such as volunteer work. Plus, all graduates must display literacy and numeracy skills in the top 30% of the nation.

What do young graduate teachers think of these changes? Did their university degrees leave them adequately prepared to face a classroom? What issues are they facing? Several spoke to Crikey about their teaching experiences …

Madeleine Crofts, a graduate teacher in the western suburbs of Melbourne:

I did very well in VCE and in my arts degree, but I’ve been a graduate teacher for six weeks and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The number who drop out as graduate teachers is large; there’s not enough support in place. The school I work in is a supportive environment, but it’s the workload and lack of time. I have supportive employers and colleagues, but they have too much work to support me adequately.

My experience at uni was that the conditions of getting into the course weren’t very strict, and I think they could be tighter. However, with interviews and aptitude tests, lots of people I went through training with wouldn’t have done well on those but learnt so much during the course and will be good teachers.

I’m suspicious of the [screening] process, because it’s hard to tell who is going to be a good teacher or not. What are the actual things that will prove you’re a good teacher? Plus then it says there is just one way of being a good teacher.

You need the prestige and the value we put on teaching in society to change, otherwise the same kind of people will apply. The conditions on courses won’t have a lot of effect on who applies to be a teacher. Having a higher ATAR would be better, but you will not attract the best people until you make the conditions of the job better.

Why would people who are bright, enthusiastic and committed want to enter a profession where they are not getting properly paid for their time? We can’t just have changes to the way we take teachers into universities unless there’s a whole lot of other changes that go with it. So I’m not against it, but I’m against doing just that.

Zoe Hilliar, a graduate teacher who has just spent two years teaching in Alice Springs:

My experience as a pre-service teacher was largely positive; however, I am an individual that would no doubt have passed the “passion” test proposed by the government. I made an effort to engage quite deeply with the content of my course in a largely self-directed manner. I could easily have passed without this level of engagement; many did.

However, regardless of how much work I did, the 45 days’ practicum required by my course, as the minimum standard dictated by the Victorian Education Board, was in many ways disappointing. The process is unregulated, and it becomes luck as to how enriching your experience is. While I also believe that more time in schools is ideal, I also have an issue with the viability of this for many individuals. I selected my course as it was able to be taken part time, and my annual leave could cover my teaching practicums. I believe that the profession will lose its ability to attract many would-be passionate teachers should it not maintain some flexibility in delivery.

Regardless of how thorough a course undertaken, I think it is fair to assume that there is always a wide gap between pre-service training and first year teaching. I believe it is the 60+ hours a first year teacher typically works, rather than their lack of passion, that results in the loss of many from the profession. I commenced in the Northern Territory where no time provisions are given to first-year teachers (unlike Victoria), which definitely increased the pressure, particularly given early career teachers are required to “prove” themselves.

A trained Victorian teacher who taught for one year and works as a substitute teacher: 

From a young male teacher’s perspective, the teaching industry at this moment sucks. A lot of people studied education thinking there’s a shortage. And what they don’t realise is the shortage is well over. These changes are ultimately a better thing, limiting the amount of teachers and ensuring you’re going to get higher-quality teachers. But that doesn’t help the situation at all right now. I struggle to find even substitute work. I’m going to schools and physically handing in my resume looking for work. I applied for over 90 jobs and had only two interviews in teaching.

I definitely felt prepared after university, but you learn a lot on the job. Your first year of teaching is mostly learning. Some schools offer you the support you need, others don’t. Your first year out can make you or break you, easily.

A lot of young teachers have their own ideas and try them out on a classroom. I used to use my experience in music computer programs to teach students hand-eye coordination and confidence. Some of the other teachers loved it, and some thought it was a bit out there. You have a lot of teachers who don’t understand these new ideas and think you’re being alternative.

My maths skills weren’t up to scratch when I graduated. It’s important to know the content you’re teaching, but it’s also important to know the different ways students learn. With timetables, some kids group it, some kids know it by rote, some kids know it in patterns, some kids add. These are the things I think are important, understanding the students.

There’s a lot of trainee teachers who aren’t sure about teaching when they start the course. A lot of them find the passion during the course. I was one of those people who needed a career, liked working with kids and thought that teaching might be OK. But when I got into my classroom I thought, “This is the job I wanted all this time”. I love it and I’d do it for the rest of my life if I could. When my contract ended at my old school I thought: “I’m a male teaching kids with intellectual disabilities, autism and behavioural problems. I know how to teach computers. I’ll be fine.” Yet I can’t find a job out there at all.