University partnership brings real-world STEM experience to classroom

University partnership brings real-world STEM experience to classroom

A new partnership between St Rita’s College in Queensland and the Australian Catholic University (ACU) is creating new professional development opportunities for the school’s staff while opening new doors into the education sector for aspiring teachers.

The initiative comes amid a growing disconnect between the reality of a modern classroom and the preparedness of graduate teachers to navigate the complex work of teaching and meet quality checks expected in high achieving schools.

The jointly developed Teacher Pathway Program aims to address this by providing ongoing mentorship, guidance and targeted assistance to meet AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) standard teacher registration requirements.

College principal, Dale Morrow, said the initiative came about in discussions focussing on how the College could best support people coming into the profession.

“We had recent graduates at the College who found the introduction to a full teaching load [in their first year] a daunting and overwhelming prospect,” Morrow told The Educator.

“As well as putting in place support mechanisms for our graduates we decided to extend an opportunity to prospective graduates to understand the ‘life cycle’ of a classroom teacher. We believed we could benefit from their capabilities in the classroom and they would gain valuable experience in understanding the challenges and joys of classroom teaching”.

The Program’s two successful applicants, ACU Master of Teaching students, Dr Jason Stone and Rachel Schafferius, both come from a STEM background and are now sharing their invaluable professional experience within St Rita’s classrooms.

After 22 years in medicine, specialising in anatomical pathology and cancer diagnosis, Dr Jason Stone decided to fulfil another life-long ambition to become a secondary STEM teacher.

“I have no regrets about the career change, and this program has provided me with valuable teaching experiences and exposure to the education system,” Dr Stone said.

“The experience and support I am gaining through the program will definitely stand me in good stead for my future teaching career”.

Fellow program participant, Biochemistry graduate Rachel Schafferius, decided to change pace in 2020 and begin a Master of Teaching after eight years working in medical research.

“I worked specifically in Clinical Trials which was an exciting area; I had the opportunity to collaborate with amazing people in the forefront of new research,” Schafferius said.

“Although I had worked in the field of Science for a long time, I had very limited knowledge of how it applies in the classroom and applied for the Partnership to tap into the amazing opportunity would provide”.

After being part of the program for the past three months, Schafferius says she has grown in her confidence and has been able to provide effective support to many students in their learning.

St Rita’s College Teacher and Program Mentor, Joel Negline, said the pair worked with assigned supervising teachers one day per week with the ultimate goal of being job-ready after graduation.

He said the program gave hands-on experience and provided resources to equip them with the skills needed to support students to excel in every aspect of their capabilities.

“Jason and Rachel will also be involved in targeted remediation and extension activities, parent teacher interviews and student pastoral support,” Negline said.

“Their maturity, dedication and professional knowledge has already been a welcome addition to the classroom, and their confidence and skills have developed significantly after just one Term”.

Negline said their significant professional experience prior to entering the teaching profession gives them a breadth of knowledge and real-world examples which engage, interest and add clarity to the content being covered.

“Jason’s experience as a doctor typifies this”.

Plans for expansion into other disciplines

Morrow said the program has important implications for professional development at the College moving forward.

“Through the provision of the Teacher Pathway Project, our teachers in the Science and Mathematics faculties have been able to access the knowledge and experience of our two ACU students who have very recent practical knowledge of the applications of STEM in the ‘real world’,” she said.

“Dr Stone and Ms Schafferius have generously shared their knowledge with their supervising teachers and the classes they work with. It has proven to be a richly rewarding partnership for the teachers and students of Science and Mathematics”.

Morrow said the College has plans to expand the initiative into a number of discipline areas.

“We assess where our needs are, based on student selection of subjects and target those areas with the ACU. We would also be interested in working with other institutions once we have established the veracity and worth of this model for both the prospective teacher and the College,” she said.

“Initial feedback has been very positive from both the students and the mentoring teachers”.