TAFE & Adult Provision The invaluable work of TAFE teachers

Although Caroline McEnroe has only been AEU sub-branch president since June, she has been teaching at RMIT since 2004 – and, in that time, she has seen a great deal of change.

Just this year, on top of the pass/fail score, TAFE teachers are now required to grade each piece, adding an extra administrative burden for all involved. “This is massively complex for the program coordinators and managers, as well as the teachers,” Caroline explains.

Compliance requirements in general have dramatically expanded, she says. As have the requirements around ‘currency’, which refers to the demonstrated professional development that keeps a teacher current in the units in which they teach. A teacher now needs to show that they have completed two forms of professional development specifically for each unit, and map them back to their relevance to the unit, and teachers can’t teach in an area in which they aren’t considered current.

For Caroline, who teaches the Diploma of Teacher Education Preparation, this makes sense as a way of ensuring proper standards are upheld, but there is no doubt that it adds additional workload. “If you are a co-ordinator or teacher who undertakes observation of placements, then you have to be current on something like 15 units of competency, and you have to have two forms of competency for each unit you are delivering – you can see how much of an onus of currency that puts on these individuals.”

At RMIT, access to professional development for staff has improved, expanding from 50 hours to 75 hours of PD per year. “PD is good,” Caroline says. “Every professional should want to constantly update their knowledge and skills, and RMIT are really great at supporting staff and providing staff with access to PD – it’s just [the difficulty of] finding the time.”

“TAFE is a massively important sector for Victoria.”

She speaks fondly of her students but thinks the greatest challenge in vocational education right now is managing student behaviour. “As a result of COVID and Victoria’s two years of remote learning, there’s a huge difference in teaching today compared to teaching in 2019, and one of those is student engagement and student understanding of acceptable behaviour,” says Caroline.

“Eighteen to 20-year-olds in 2023 are completely different to 18 to 20-year-olds in 2019 in their belief that it’s their choice whether or not to turn up. There are kids enrolled who have no concept that they need to attend, engage, or participate.”

Despite these frustrations, as someone who sees on a weekly basis the good that TAFE can do, Caroline is a big proponent.

“It’s a massively important sector for Victoria. At TAFE, we know the jobs that need filling, and we give students those vital skills.

“There is this sense in school that students need a uni qualification, but it depends on the individual, and uni courses are not necessarily better. The vocational education sector is incredibly valuable. It has never had the same status as higher ed, but it should.”

Current teacher shortages in schools are dominating the media, but TAFE is facing similar challenges. While school teachers might shift to a different sector or pursue an alternative career, TAFE teachers have the option of returning to their former industry, many of which are also short of workers and offering attractive pay and conditions.

Caroline recently attended an inspiring PD session where the presenter explained that it’s the responsibility of all TAFEs and the vocational education sector in general to recruit and retain new teachers for the sector, otherwise there will be no TAFE or VE sector, Caroline says, adding: “That hit a real note with everyone present because she is absolutely right.”

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