Enter the super teacher, fit for schools and unis

By Linda Doherty Education Editor
August 10, 2005

A magical mix  Mark Butler in his element this week. He is
the type of teacher Brendan Nelson wants at university.

A magical mix Mark Butler in his element this week. He is the type of teacher Brendan Nelson wants at university.
Photo: Peter Morris

A new class of teacher is on the horizon - one who works in both universities and schools and becomes a "lighthouse" for excellence in the classroom.

The federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, said exceptional teachers would be paid more, have time to lecture and research for a few days at university and spend the rest of the week teaching in schools.

These teachers would raise "the esteem that society" has for the profession and provide a "more practical approach" to teacher training at university.

Dr Nelson said inspiring teachers like Mark Butler, who last year won the Prime Minister's prize for excellence in secondary science teaching, should be rewarded with the higher status of a university post. "He's a PhD who went back to teaching, a brilliant man I look at him and I think he should have a university appointment," he said.

Dr Butler, who heads the science department at Gosford High, is a former scientist who dropped out of Mosman High in year 10 because he was "bored to tears" with the "appalling syllabus". He did his HSC at TAFE before spending years in academia and research, where he built a new type of laser. But he always wanted to be a teacher and went into the profession at the age of 32. "I thought there's got to be a better way to do it. We need teachers with a passion for learning, who give kids challenges instead of rote learning," he said.

Each year at his government selective school he offers $250 out of his pocket to every HSC physics and chemistry student who gets a mark of 95 or above.

"That has cost me a lot of money over the years," he said.

Dr Nelson said he had "the policy levers" to enforce his new "lighthouses" on universities. The federal and NSW institutes of teachers are both working on schemes to accredit university faculties to train teachers.

As part of the federal accreditation process, the Government could require education faculties to "employ a minimum quantity of working teachers and give them a university appointment".

They would be paid by the university and the school.

The NSW Teachers Federation said a new "classroom practitioner" was a long-standing policy and that Dr Nelson's plan was "a great idea".

The union's president, Maree O'Halloran, said it would have "two-way benefits" for schools and universities.

"It would strengthen training for graduates and [novice] teachers, and it would be a real benefit for the school to have challenging ideas and new methodologies from universities," she said.

The NSW Minister for Education, Carmel Tebbutt, said the plan was an "interesting idea", which she supported in principle. However, several issues would need to be considered, such as who would pay the teachers and the possibility of disruptions to the classroom.

"Anything we can do to better prepare student teachers for what they'll face in the classroom is really important," she said.