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Suitability for teaching: Assessing the potential to be a teacher. July 2, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by Katina Zammit

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the NSW Council of Deans of Education and listen to Minister Piccoli espouse the NSW Government’s views on prospective teachers. He spoke about the quality of entrants into teaching: their literacy and numeracy levels and their suitability to be teachers. The points he put are part of the Government’s 2012 blueprint Great Teaching, Inspired Learning (GTIL). In this post, I’d like to consider what is meant by ‘suitability’ and question if this can be assessed.

The Minister spoke about ‘suitability’ for teaching. In Greater Teaching, Inspired Learning this is stated as ‘entrants into teacher education will … show an aptitude for teaching’ (GTIL, 2012, p.7). He explained that NSW would develop ‘a framework of attributes for assessing suitability for teaching’. The development of the framework will involve the initial teaching education providers, school authorities and teachers. But how do you judge a person as suitable for teaching? Is it based on a psychological evaluation? Will everyone need to take a Myers- Briggs assessment of personality types and be a certain type to be considered for a teaching job? It didn’t work for the Peace Corps, in the US. Will there need to be a recommendation from a principal? Or other educator?

In the project Teaching and Leading for Quality Australian Schools: A Review and Synthesis of Research-based Knowledge, Zammit et al (2007) found that quality teaching could be considered as being influenced by three domains: contextual factors, professional practice, and attributes and qualities of teachers. In the domain of attributes and qualities of teachers, we categorised these as personal, relational and professional. In the personal area, the qualities were: enthusiasm, passion and commitment; high levels of communication; and, motivation to enter teaching. However, these were identified as not the only attributes that contributed to student outcomes and quality teaching. But these seem to be the ones implied in the Minister’s speech.

How do you measure a person’s interest, desire or passion for being a teacher? I remember in high school completing a test to determine which profession / job I would be ‘suitable’ for to help me make decisions about my career. The result was I could do anything. Not so helpful. 

We are not born teachers. Teaching is not ‘in the blood’. It is not a genetic predisposition – at least I don’t think it is. But you have to want to work with children; to put in the hours outside of school (the hidden requirements of the job). There are so many different and very good teachers, with a range of personalities, skills and backgrounds who have come into teaching from high school, from another course or from another career. The merchant banker has not changed her/her career to teaching for the money.

The framework for suitability is still to be developed. The form it will take is still to be decided. Let’s hope it isn’t a multiple choice, personality assessment… Watch this space.


NSW Department of Education and Communities, NSW Institute of Teaching, & Board of Studies (NSW) (2012) Great Teaching, Inspired Learning: A Blueprint for Action. Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Zammit, K., Sinclair, C., Cole, B., Singh, M., Costley, D., Brown A’Court, L., & Rushton, K. (2007). Teaching and Leading for Quality Australian Schools: A Review and Synthesis of Research-based Knowledge. Canberra: Teaching Australia.

Dr Katina Zammit is Director of Academic Program (Primary) in the School of Education, University of Western Sydney 


1. Denyse Whelane - July 2, 2013

I agree that you can’t “test” for aptitude as Min Piccoli states. However, where I see the problem with “suitability” is once the pre service teacher enters a school setting. This can be the first time entering school grounds for some students since they were at school. In saying that, it does take a bit of bravado, some enthusiasm for working with children, the ability to be pro-active in the classroom and then the would-be teacher can be teacher-like. I’ve been a school principal and now am working with pre-service teachers from UWS Masters of Teaching. There has been a great range of “suitability” for teaching noted by me and the supervising teachers & schools. I believe not enough “ground work” is done for teaching e.g. Dem lessons, being a class observer, and a genuine LIKE for working with kids & as you say, understanding the teaching life! Too many times pre service teachers cannot “get” the commitment required. It is not a job with good hours ..8.30-3 some thought was it! Nevertheless the difference I saw in some by the end of Prac was they had “fallen” for teaching in a big way. That is not quantifiable.

2. Denyse Whelan - July 2, 2013

I am Denyse Whelan! iPad added the e!

3. Robert Tillsley - July 2, 2013

Thanks for raising awareness of the upcoming policy Katina. I can see that the government would want the best possible candidates for teaching, but any sort of formula is surely going to be challenging to develop. As a current preservice teacher I find my assumptions about others constantly being proven wrong. I can’t help but see the aspects of teachers as being like different colour palettes. Each set of colours can produce an exceptional painting despite their differences. I have a laundry list of traits I assume teachers should possess, but I suspect I only see one palette. Perhaps the hardest for policy makers to accept- students can leave school with different experiences and some variation in knowledge and still all be well rounded.

From my previous career, I have grown to dislike personality tests. They are easy to manipulate and the artificial groupings seem to have little merit when not performed and assessed by a psychologist. There is something especially dull about yet another professional development day personality test…
A quick read of research doesn’t leave me feeling any better: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00089.x/full
Supporting evidence seems weak at best, and personally I think the authors are being rather optimistic.Also, how do you realistically compare an adult reentry to a student fresh out of high school? We have such different things to offer.

Re Denyse’s response. I completely agree. Great theory training needs to be supplemented with concrete examples and rehearsal. Observation should be included at the start of any teaching course so that preservice teachers can determine themselves whether it is the career path for them well before they’ve invested too much time to change.

No matter what approach is taken, the culling of the course intake may lose those students who fall for teaching during prac. On the other hand, and perhaps less charitably, I’ve come across the odd student or two where I’m wondering how they ever got into the course.

4. Education First - July 5, 2013

Hi Katrina! Thank you for the this intriguing article. Like Denyse and Robert, I agree that aptitude tests alone are not effective indicators of teaching success. However, I do believe that there needs to be some assessment strategies in place, so that universities can train and develop passionate pre-service teachers.

One suggestion is to model the current system that medical students have to go through, where they need to do an aptitude test and a formal interview process. If they are successful, they will then be offered a place at university. Much like Robert I have also seen the odd student or two in this course and I believe that interview process is necessity for this course.

Jeryee Lee

5. Suitability for teaching: Assessing the potenti... - July 8, 2013

[…] by Katina Zammit Recently I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the NSW Council of Deans of Education and listen to Minister Piccoli espouse the NSW Government’s views on prospec…  […]

6. lee whitfort - July 11, 2013

Some of the best teachers I have ever worked with did not start out as teachers and their career advisors did not suggest teaching as a career path for them . They came to teaching as mature aged workers with a lot of life experience. Perhaps a prerequisite for teacher training courses is a minimum of 2 years working/gaining life experience. Is there a link between the age at which a person commences teacher training and length of service as a teacher?

7. Ernie A. Barrett - July 20, 2013

The CoursesIn the teacher preparation program at this mid-western university, preservice teachers complete their language arts and social studies methods course in the same semester as the integrated curriculum course. The Language Arts/Social Studies course is designed to prepare students to teach language arts and social studies to children in preschool through third grade from a holistic, developmentally appropriate perspective. Preservice teachers become more familiar with best practices, teaching strategies, and classroom application in regards to the disciplines of language arts and social studies instruction. The university classroom involves collaborative learning within a constructivist seminar setting and a field component for observation and strategy implementation in the early childhood classroom. By completing this course, preservice teachers have a better understanding of reading education, more specifically, the interrelationship of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Goals and outcomes for the course incorporate the use of current, effective methods and materials for teaching preschool through primary grades language arts and social studies; the integration of the language arts/social studies objectives with other disciplines; and, the integration of technology in planning and implementing lessons within the scope and sequence of the early childhood classroom. Assignments are developed to assess preservice teachers’ understandings of the course description and goals. Preservice teachers synthesize their knowledge of the course content to complete their final assignment which is an Interactive Learning Project.

8. Grant Coogan - September 9, 2013

Hi Katrina,
Whatever the government decides, I think they may have a recruitment problem in the future. If you are called to teach, great: that will show up in an interview. Of course, I was called to be a rockstar before entering teaching, but I couldn’t do rock so well, as it turned out.

The most fabulous and much envied prac-students when I was at Uni burnt themselves out very quickly and no longer teach. They certainly looked suitable at the time.

I felt I could probably make a go of teaching and failed in my early attempts to the point of almost quitting. I rock at teaching now. The research on excellent teaching also suggests that the very best teachers did it tough in their early years and feel that their skills were hard won (Vallance 2000). I wonder how many of those teachers would be doing it now if they had to jump through suitability hoops prior to joining the ranks?

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