Experiences of overseas trained teachers seeking public school positions in Western Australia and South Australia
Sushmitta Datta Roy
Department of Education, Western Australia
University of Notre Dame Australia
Many overseas trained teachers migrate to Australia in search of different lifestyles. In their endeavour to find suitable teaching positions in public secondary schools, overseas trained teachers often confront multiple challenges. This study explored the different issues that 12 overseas trained teachers experienced before obtaining a teaching position in a public secondary school in either Western Australia or South Australia. Data were collected through using twelve in-depth semi-structured interviews and researcher-generated field notes. The results indicate that participants experienced the following challenges: apparent lack of information on post immigration life in Australia; danger of misinformation; registration delays; inconsistency in English language requirements; fixed term offers for teaching positions; difficult living conditions in the country areas; and a perceived lack of consistency in the teacher orientation programs provided by the Education Departments of Western Australia and South Australia.
The focus of this study was to explore the experiences of overseas trained teachers prior to obtaining a teaching position at a public school in Western Australia or South Australia. An overseas trained teacher in the Australian context is a person who has been educated and professionally trained in any country other than Australia. There are two categories of overseas trained teachers who come to Australia: teachers from the native English speaking background ('NEST'); and teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse and non-English speaking backgrounds ('CALD/NESB'). This study included overseas trained teachers who had worked in public secondary schools in Western Australia or South Australia. The study focused on participants in these two states because of practical constraints. Firstly the authors work in Western Australia and were readily able to access a diverse range of participants. Secondly, participants were drawn from South Australia as it is a neighbouring state. Combining participants' experiences from two states enhanced the sample representation.
The epistemological approach of this research is constructivist in nature. This constructivist research used interpretivism, with a filter of symbolic interactionism as its theoretical perspective. An instrumental case study is the chosen methodology, as it provides a general understanding of a phenomenon using a particular case (Harling, 2012). Accordingly, this study explored the different issues that 12 overseas trained teachers experienced before obtaining a teaching position in a public secondary school in WA or SA. It presents the main findings resulting from Datta Roy (2016).
Overseas trained teachers had similar experiences in other countries. For example, Manik (2007) recorded the initial experiences of South African teachers who migrated to the United Kingdom. These overseas trained teachers complained that important information on everyday life was missing from the recruiting websites. Those overseas trained teachers indicated that there was little or no information on accommodation, healthcare, transportation, food costs, phone services and many other general factors that affected their everyday lives. Manik (2007) reported that all these factors caused significant confusion and stress to overseas trained teachers as they moved to a foreign country. In addition, in the United States of America, there were reports of unscrupulous recruitment agencies.
Researchers have provided recommendations to counter the issue of insufficient background information received by migrant teachers. Jhagroo (2004) as quoted in Biggs (2010), recommended that overseas trained teachers should visit the proposed country of immigration at least once beforehand. This exercise might assist the migrating overseas trained teachers to get a feel for the people and the country in general. In the process, aspiring overseas trained teachers might also be able to evaluate the education system of their proposed country of immigration and make an informed decision about immigrating. Specific recommendations were given explicitly for Australian schools in the final ‘Globalisation and Teacher Movements' research report (Reid, Collins & Singh, 2010). The first recommendation of the report focused on creating increasing transparencies in the migration policies and encouraging overseas teacher migrants to understand the realities of working in Australia. The report also suggested provisions for extending personalised connections and support to address any problem that migrant teachers might encounter across all areas of their personal and professional lives, particularly during their first six months in Australia.
As far back as 1999, Bella observed that overseas trained teachers in Queensland schools considered obtaining registration and initial employment as their biggest hurdle. The teachers were unhappy about the 'wait' time to obtain their teacher registration. Bella (1999) also observed that many teachers felt that there was discrimination shown against teachers from overseas, particularly for teachers from non-English speaking backgrounds and this perception was evident from the delay in the registration process. These teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse and non-English speaking backgrounds observed that there was an inbuilt lack of acceptance of overseas trained teachers in the education community of Queensland (Bella, 1999).
Achieving the required standards of English language proficiency for teacher registration could prove to be an immense challenge to some overseas trained teachers as quite often the registration board might ask for native-like proficiency in English (Murray & Cross, 2009). Many overseas trained teachers found it hard to meet that requirement, mainly due to their varying accents. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership defined English language proficiency as “achievement of a level of professional proficiency in spoken and written English” (AITSL, 2014). According to AITSL (2014), the English language proficiency of overseas teachers in Australia could be assessed through the International English Language System (IELTS), International Second Language Proficiency Ratings (ISLPR) or Professional English Assessment for Teachers (PEAT). South Australia offered overseas trained teachers full registration after a successful completion of one of the above mentioned tests (TRBSA, 2016). Western Australia accepted desirable bands of 7.5 and 8 in International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Professional English Assessment for Teachers (PEAT) (TRBWA, 2016).
Collins and Reid (2012) observed that many overseas trained teachers were forced to take up country postings to begin their new teaching careers in Australia. This situation could lead these teachers to endure a secluded and isolated life, away from the mainstream community. Furthermore, this situation added extra stress on the teachers' adaptation process to Australian public schools. Working in regional Australia could increase culture shock in overseas trained teachers, due to differences in culture, communication and the necessity to deal with extreme climates (Collins & Reid, 2012). In Australia, even though overseas trained teachers took up country positions for a variety of reasons, their services were not always valued in the country regions of the nation. The Globalisation and Teacher Movements research report (Reid, Collins & Singh, 2010) indicated that there was a perception amongst some immigrant teachers that overseas trained teachers were discriminated against, especially in terms of promotional opportunities, access to professional development and many other aspects of school life. Overseas trained teachers were often looked at as transient staff in the context of hard-to-staff schools, both in country and metropolitan areas. The report advised the school community against such practices (Reid, Collins & Singh, 2010).
Researchers have argued for better and more consistent teacher orientation programs for overseas trained teachers. Specifically, the difference between overseas trained teachers and Australian beginner teachers must be taken into consideration while building a program of initial support and integration for immigrant teachers during their first few years of work (Michael, 2006; Biggs, 2010). Teacher orientation must include substantial information on community and extend a provision for assistance in banking, licensing, accommodation and transport should it be required (Hutchison, 2005). A teacher orientation tour of the school showing the classrooms, technology and videos on best practices of experienced teachers (who might also act as mentors), might have the potential to provide the required guidance for overseas trained teachers. Furthermore, the role of a mentor should be that of a friend in order to assist overseas trained teachers through their transitional phase (Hutchison, 2005). Finally, the orientation process should introduce the new teachers to school staff and other networking agencies (Hutchison, 2005). These recommendations, if successfully implemented, would provide much improved support for overseas trained teachers in the initial years of settlement.
What are the contextual experiences faced by overseas trained teachers prior to obtaining a teaching position in public secondary schools of either Western Australia or South Australia?
|Alice||Native speaker||Canada||Female||WA||20-30 years|
|Barbara||Native speaker||Ireland||Female||SA||50+ years|
|Bob||Native speaker||South Africa||Male||WA||30-40 years|
|Anne||Native speaker||United Kingdom||Female||WA||50+ years|
|NEST: native English speaking background; CALD/NESB: teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse and non-English speaking backgrounds.|
Barbara from Ireland raised concerns over what she saw as a lack of prior information on everyday life in Australia. Barbara reflected that she was immensely surprised when another colleague enquired if she had completed her annual tax return. Barbara was amazed as she had not received this basic information beforehand. According to Barbara,
They need big changes - they need clarification. There has to be a physical pack for teachers when they set foot in the country and what they are entitled to. In my country, as a teacher, you can never apply for your tax back.Two participants were unhappy about the clarity of information that was provided by the Education Department websites, both in Western Australia and South Australia. Anne from the United Kingdom said that she had wanted to view the Western Australian curriculum framework and gain a feel of the pedagogical requirement before migrating to Western Australia. Anne recalled,
I wanted to have a look at the framework and how it looked like, but I wasn't able to get to the website, because it didn't have an 'E' number. The basic structure of the system was very hard to find out. It should be easier.Another participant, Manako from Japan, reflected that she had to find out by herself how to meet the prerequisites for becoming a teacher in South Australia. She could not access help or appropriate information from relevant sources. She recalled "it was difficult to find information on what to do or where I should go!"
A majority of the participants thought that the information provided on the Education Department websites may not always show the reality of job situations. Eight participants believed that a mention of some of those real life challenges and practical circumstances might have helped the Education Department websites to appear more accurate, truthful, valid and dependable. Bob from South Africa claimed that overseas trained teachers coming from abroad might be victims of misinformation in Australia. According to Bob, some information provided by different sources, might indeed be misleading and might need to be doubly checked. He said:
A maths teacher from Ireland, a teacher I knew, was told that Tom Price - lovely town and near the coast! We had another teacher from Singapore, who informed the authorities that she had a skin problem with heat. Yet she was sent to Tom Price at 46 degrees heat. She didn't like bugs, cockroaches and stuff, but it's like that there in Tom Price. It's a desert and seriously was not the right place for her. Yeah, they take advantage.Bob thought that that kind of incident should not happen to overseas trained teachers who are unaware of the topography of the country.
Many participants found the teacher registration process time consuming. For example, in 2008, Alice from Canada claimed that she had to face registration issues in Western Australia with the then Western Australian College of Teaching (WACOT), which is currently (as of 2017) known as the Teacher Registration Board of Western Australia (TRBWA, n.d.). Initially, as part of the immigration process, she was asked to replicate a Criminal Clearance Certificate from Canada (her country of origin). It did not make any sense to Alice, as she thought that Canadian police clearance must have been included in the International Criminal Check. One more participant, Rumi, from India, settled initially in New South Wales and later migrated to Western Australia along with her husband, who also was a teacher. She was surprised by the differences in the teacher registration policies of the two states. Different policies of teacher registration requirements of the states and territories of Australia, caused confusion in the minds of participants.
Another participant, Barbara from Ireland, indicated that she had to face the hurdles of registration backlog, which in turn led to the replication of her paperwork. Barbara claimed to have experienced a number of issues with the Teacher's Registration Board of South Australia. Before leaving Ireland, she had sent all the required paperwork for police and character verification details to the South Australia Teacher Registration Board. However, the South Australian teacher registration board demanded the same paperwork again. Barbara already had a job offer in South Australia before leaving Ireland, but due to registration issues she could not immediately take up her position. Furthermore, some of her certificates were not accepted by the State. For example, Barbara reported that she had a first aid certificate from the St. John's Ambulance in Ireland, but it was not accepted in South Australia. Since a first aid qualification was compulsory for teachers in South Australia, Barbara had to pay to renew her certificate.
A majority of the participants had to complete the 'International English Language Testing System' (IELTS) as part of the migration process. However, depending on the state in which the participants wished to teach, there were different English language requirements for teacher registration purposes. Participants from Western Australia did not have to appear for a separate English language exam to become registered as a teacher in the state. However, the participants from South Australia had to sit for English language testing to become registered.
The Western Australian Education Department offered teachers (both local and overseas trained) the option of accepting country placements to achieve permanency with the Department. The reason for such offers was the fact that many rural and remote teaching positions remained vacant for a long time. Some of the participants in this study had to take up such offers to commence their teaching career in Australia. Seven of the nine participants from Western Australia (Ali, Leyla, Lawrence, Nadjuhin, Hayat, Bob and Anne) taught in rural and remote locations to begin their teaching career in WA and all of them obtained permanency with the Department of Education of Western Australia. However, even though the country positions provided the above mentioned participants permanency with the Department of Education in Western Australia, the situation also led to some issues, as discussed in the next section. On the other hand, the experiences of teachers from South Australia differed in this respect and all the three participants from South Australia were frustrated with this issue. In South Australia, there were fewer permanent jobs on offer (Overseas Trained Teachers' Conference, Adelaide, 4 October, 2012).
A majority of the participants had to accept readily available country positions to commence their teaching career in Australia. Country locations often created a sense of loneliness for the participants, as many of them had to leave their families in the cities, to take up their teaching positions in different rural and remote regions. Five participants (Ali, Leyla, Hayat, Nadjuhin, Barbara) thought that their remote work locations created personal issues for them. Ali from Iraq reported that he had to leave his family and friends to start his teaching career in a rural location of Western Australia. Hayat from Eritrea also had to leave his young family to pursue his teaching career in a rural location. In Hayat's case, after trying in vain to get a transfer back to Perth to be with his family, he resigned his position to rejoin his family. Forced separation from family made Hayat resign his teaching position and even change his profession.
Another female teacher from Ukraine had to live alone for three years in remote regions of Western Australia to achieve permanency with the Department of Education. Nadjuhin from the Ukraine came to Western Australia after her marriage and started her teaching career in a remote location of the state. She had to leave her husband for three years in Perth to pursue her Level 3 posting in remote regions of Western Australia. Nadjuhin indicated that she had to undergo a range of challenging experiences when she started her teaching career in remote locations of Western Australia. Some of the challenges that Nadjuhin had to experience were abiding by the rules of the indigenous communities in remote regions of Western Australia; and the necessity to confront extreme behaviour of students in some schools. Another participant, Barbara, discovered only after commencing her teaching position in a remote location of South Australia that she had to "import food and vegetables" and drink stored rainwater. Drinking water was stored in a tank and Barbara fell sick immediately after she commenced teaching in that location.
Participants identified what they saw as a lack of consistency in the Departmental teacher orientation process for new overseas trained teachers, both in Western Australia and South Australia. In Western Australia, three participants reported that they had received teacher orientation, while six others commented that they did not. Ali, Leyla, Hayat, who joined the Western Australian Education Department in the early 2000s, did not receive any formal teacher orientation from the Education Department of Western Australia. In South Australia all three participants indicated that they did not receive any teacher orientation. It appeared that over the years there were some changes in policies for teacher orientation in Western Australia, but South Australia relied on individual schools for the orientation of new teachers.
One of the participants (Nadjuhin) indicated that back in 2003, Murdoch University conducted training programs for overseas trained teachers. Formal information from the Education Department of Western Australia was not provided in that regard. Nadjuhin attended the course and found it quite helpful. However, since that program was not endorsed by the Education Department of Western Australia, she had to pay for the course. In later years, some changes in the teacher orientation process were put into place by the Department of Education of Western Australia. Anne recalled that in 2007, as part of her 457 visa (employer sponsored, temporary residence), she was classified as an overseas trained teacher and had to attend a formal teacher orientation program organised by the Department of Education of Western Australia. Anne reflected that this information was both useful and relevant, as many participants did not have any contextual information on Western Australian schools. Alice from Canada also had to undertake an intensive teacher orientation program conducted by the Department of Education of Western Australia in 2008. She reported that she was given work packages designed for overseas trained teachers and was provided with copies of the curriculum, worksheets to level assessments (levelling was the prevalent mode of assessment at that time). Along with all those theoretical practices, she also had to attend practical teaching sessions at a school where she worked for 10 days (with pay). After observing her teaching and coping mechanisms over this time, the Deputy Principal of that particular school signed her off with a satisfactory report. Alice was allowed to obtain a public secondary school placement, only after the completion of that teacher orientation process. The participants expressed concern on the Education Department's varying policies on teacher orientation.
Similar issues were experienced by participants in South Australia. Barbara in South Australia, who joined her school in a remote community mid-year, reported that she did not have the opportunity to attend any teacher orientation program and simply had to assess the situation in her school herself. Moreover, as a Head of Learning Area (HOLA) she had to take charge without any assistance. Teacher orientation in South Australia was generally provided by individual schools after the appointment of teachers, through Education Department web sites (Overseas Trained Teachers' Conference, Adelaide, 4 October, 2012). Steven from Zimbabwe worked in the United Kingdom before migrating to Australia. He recalled that the teacher orientation program in the United Kingdom was "one of the best of its kind". Steven noted that he did not face much difficulty in adjusting to the public secondary schools in South Australia, due to his previous orientation and teaching experience in the United Kingdom. Steven's previous knowledge from teacher orientation in the United Kingdom helped him to deal with his new environment. The third participant from South Australia, Manako, confirmed that she did not receive any orientation before the commencement of her teaching position.
This study reconfirmed most of the observations that were highlighted by previous researchers (Reid & Collins 2007; Collins & Reid, 2012; Manik, 2007; Bella, 1999; Reid, Collins & Singh 2010; Hudson et .al., 2009). Those observations included a general lack of background information on post immigration life in a foreign country; varying teacher registration processes in Australian states, which can cause delays in employment; loneliness, stress and isolation of overseas trained teachers in country postings; and a lack of consistency in the orientation programs for overseas trained teachers in Australia.
From these results and discussion, the authors offer two recommendations. First, it is imperative that the Education Department websites are consistently updated with relevant and appropriate information for the benefit of all teachers, especially those from overseas. Information might include registration requirements, the timeline for registration, post immigration life in Australia, values and pedagogical expectations in Australian schools, and realistic depictions of life in the rural and remote locations of the two states. This information will help aspiring overseas trained teachers to be mentally prepared before migrating to Australia.
The second recommendation focuses on the need for effective, ongoing teacher orientation and school-based induction for new overseas trained teachers, before they take on their classroom responsibilities. Provision for school-based inductions on a smaller scale might be considered if teachers join a public secondary school in the middle of an academic year. Effective teacher orientation and school-based induction will help in promoting confidence and preparedness in the minds of overseas trained teachers.
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|Q1.||Please tell me a bit about yourself.|
(Please include background information about the country of your origin, family, professional training, the educational system back home, values etc).
|Q2.||When did you come to WA/SA? Did you teach anywhere else in Australia before coming to WA/SA? Please explain your initial experiences of the first public school that you taught in WA/SA.|
|Q3.||How did that experience differ from your initial expectation? Why did you have that kind of expectation? How did you react?|
|Q4.||Did you need to make any lifestyle change or adjustments in order to adapt to your teaching profession in WA/SA? What were those?|
|Q5.||How effective do you think the induction process was? What are your suggestions for improvement?|
|Q6.||Is there any additional information on teaching in WA/SA you would have liked to receive before coming here?|
|Q7.||From your own point of view, what do you think of the contribution of overseas trained teachers towards the education system of WA/SA? What are the impacts?|
|Q8.||What advice would you give to overseas trained teachers moving from an overseas school to teach in a secondary school in WA/SA?|
|Q9.||Are there other matters of interest that you would like to discuss?|
|Authors: Dr Sushmita Datta Roy is a Senior Teacher in the Department of Education, Western Australia. Her career encompasses 25 years working as a qualified teacher for both primary and secondary students, both overseas and in Western Australia. Her areas of interests include migrant students, adult education, overseas trained teachers and social welfare.|
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Associate Professor Shane Lavery is the coordinator of postgraduate studies in the School of Education, The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Campus. He teaches social justice, service-learning and ecological studies at undergraduate level. His postgraduate teaching areas are educational leadership, research methods in education and ecological studies.
Please cite as: Datta Roy, S. & Lavery, S. (2017). Experiences of overseas trained teachers seeking public school positions in Western Australia and South Australia. Issues in Educational Research, 27(4), 720-735. http://www.iier.org.au/iier27/datta-roy.html