Professor Terry Lovat
1. Why, how and where did you enter the field of education?
I was a bit of a late starter; I came into teaching formally in my early 30s, having done a lot of work with the Church and kids in other settings – I worked around Australia, New Zealand and in the South Pacific for some time. I finally came formally to high school teaching when I was 30 or so.
When I worked in the Church, in a sense I was involved with educational activities, without actually dealing with the formality of schooling, and that was probably a good way to do it because when I then came into teaching, I had a much wider base of experiences of dealing with people and kids at all levels to draw from. I was sometimes a teacher, sometimes a counsellor, or somebody who was on the side, and perhaps a more trusted party in some ways than the average teacher – I felt that I knew something of the inner world of kids in schools and the things that bugged them and I think I was able to bring a lot of that into teaching.
2. Was there anyone who influenced you? Why?
There have been key teachers along the way who have had an impact, stuck in my mind, and effectively became role models. They showed me that teaching can make a difference.
3. What were your original goals or aims?
I think to make difference. Teaching makes a difference – I think that thought was there early on; to do something with your life, and teaching is one of the ways where you can make a difference and have an impact.
4. Could you outline the milestones or highlights of your career path to date?
I became a high school teacher, then went on and became a head teacher in a high school, and then I moved into higher education firstly as a lecturer, senior lecturer, Associate Professor, a Professor, Dean, and Vice-Chancellor. I’ve continued to teach throughout that time – I’ve always taught; most people at my level probably don’t, but it continues to be important to me.
5. What are you most proud of having accomplished over your career so far?
Having been involved in designing and implementing new areas of learning – I was very involved at one stage in developing new social science syllabuses for senior secondary, and they’ve gone on to become foundation sorts of subjects now for the HSC. Similarly, being on the syllabus committee to develop Studies of Religion – which simply didn’t exist when I started teaching. There were a lot of hurdles to jump, pressure within working parties, committee work, negotiating, etc. but it’s all worthwhile when the product turns out to be the fastest growing HSC subject for a good number of years, as was the case with Studies of Religion.
Another thing I’m proud of is following the careers of some of my former students. I still keep in touch with some of my original ‘horror year 9 group’ of years ago; I’ve been to their 21st’s, etc. and we still keep in touch – they’re now older than I was when I first walked into their classroom – quite a bit older.
6. Did you ever see yourself as a future Dean of Education?
7. When did you start to see yourself as an educational leader?
I suppose when I was first nominated as head teacher that came as a bit of a surprise, because I was just enjoying being a teacher and then I suppose I started moving into higher education to escape the standard career pathway of the next step being deputy principal, something that didn’t appeal at the time. I was always more interested in the scholarly aspects of the profession. I was only in the university for a few years and the leadership issues began to emerge again, and then it just went on from there.
8. Looking back, do you think your understanding of the relationship of practice and research in education has changed over time?
From when I started, yes I do. I think, despite having had wider experiences, I tended to think of education in fairly narrow terms; the formal classroom based education – I didn’t see the possibilities of what can be done within classrooms with different sorts of learnings, and having a real sense of the possibilities. I wish I had understood these things early on in my career – I’d have probably done better; for example, different ways you can create an environment for learning, or indeed the opposite; there wasn’t enough of that focus in my training.
9. How do you think the general education community views educational research?
Poorly. It’s one of the challenges, as far as I’m concerned, for the profession generally that we have to create greater understanding from and stronger links with the rest of its natural community, including its researchers. The professions that are unreservedly professions have a very strong day-to-day link with their research and practice arm, for instance: every day, a good doctor will consult the latest literature because they have to keep their practionership high; the good engineer will always be looking for better ways to do things because they can’t afford to build walls that fall down, etc. That’s all in the research. Unfortunately, for the most part, teachers don’t have that sense that the world of educational research can actually contribute to what they’re doing and make it better; therefore, a lot more of them struggle with ineffective practices and poor management regimes and lack of student achievement, etc. Whereas, even a glimmer of some of the educational research findings would help them to understand why that’s the case and what they might do about it. It’s getting better because, here at Newcastle for instance, we have good movement between the University and the schools, of students and staff going both ways, so our students often don’t really know whether the person in front of them is one of our research professors or the deputy principal from the local high school. That’s created a kind of collegial feel between the staff in the schools and the staff in the University, with school staff getting involved in some of the research work of the academics. I think we’re heading down the right track on pulling the two sides of the profession together, but it’s been a long time coming.
10. What do you feel are the current issues facing Teacher Education?
There’s lots of them, and in no particular order I think that the international agenda which has come to life with a force – the shortage of teachers in the UK, US, and the impact on our graduates and the recruiting agencies, has now exposed our teacher education to the world in a way it has never been before. I think that means we have to think differently about it, because we have to start looking into what’s out there, because now we’re effectively serving the world when we train a teacher, so we have to give students experiences in their training that match that. We can’t be so parochial that we just get caught up with what the local employment authority requires – that’s important, but we have to think beyond that. We’ve have to, as universities, really put teacher education right at the centre of universities instead of on the periphery; we have to convince Vice-Chancellors of the imperative of doing that. We have to convince our colleagues in universities that teacher education is not just a basic training-apprenticeship; it functions on a solid research base, it is a high quality, highly skilled professional arm of universities, etc.
11. What do you think the future of Teacher Education in Australia holds?
Potentially, we could be the centre of the world. Interestingly, our teacher education is very highly regarded, as are our teachers, and internationally there are none more highly regarded or more sought-after, which has great possibilities. Unfortunately, because of everything that’s happened in universities in the last 15 years or so, teacher education tends to be very run down in a lot of places. The average age of teacher educators is much higher, so it will be difficult to find the next generation – we really have to tackle that one head on, over the next half decade or so.
12. What are your views on the current Australian Tertiary sector?
It’s very rough out there. Financially, it’s been starved and becoming less and less adequately resourced each year to be an effective service provider. There’s vast numbers of people who want access and can’t get it. The Higher Education Reform, which is pending, has potential to improve that situation, and with any luck it will.
13. What do you think the sector’s immediate challenges are?
It’s most immediate challenge is to find and develop ways of creating greater access for a greater number of people. The situation is now one where you need a UAI of 80 to get into a BA and 85 to get into a BTeach/BA, simply because there are no more places available, and so lots of good people, particularly those wanting to get into teaching where there’s a shortage, simply don’t get in, and so they do other things, or do nothing. This is a situation that is clearly not good for our country.
14. What do you think your faculty’s strengths are?
Our faculty’s strengths include: our comprehensiveness; our strong research base; our well-qualified staff; our links with our educational partners in the various school systems; and our international reach – practically, we have teacher education connections in the United States, China, South Africa, Thailand, Samoa and many other countries.
15. What do you consider to be the most important attribute of graduates from your faculty?
Clearly, to be quality teachers who produce good effects among students, who are capable and committed to student achievement, which is not just defined in terms of whether they’re good at passing tests, but student achievement in a broader sense; good thinkers with good social skills. The last is a big one and a priority, that we’re turning out people better equipped for life.
16. Are there any other questions you’d like us to ask other deans, or have you anything else you’d like to add?
Beyond those you’ve asked me? No.