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Exceptional teaching students helping disadvantaged kids

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The National Exceptional Teaching for Disadvantaged Schools Program (NETDS) targets the highest performing pre-service teachers across seven participating universities nationwide equipping them to work in low socio-economic schools to change the lives of disadvantaged students.

Australian Catholic University (ACU) has implemented NETDS across its Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane campuses, targeting primary degree students who will go on to work in both the Catholic and state education systems.

Since its inception in 2010, approximately 90% of the program’s 406 high-achieving teacher graduates have been funnelled into high-poverty school communities.

It works both ways, exposing young teachers to the realities facing kids from tough backgrounds.

ACU NETDS students Georgina Eadie, Jessica Tully and Che Gordon volunteer as mentors.

Their involvement is part of NRL club the Brisbane Broncos’ Beyond the Broncos Mentoring Program which provides support and encourages school attendance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. 

“I have learnt who these kids are and how they operate. On my previous pracs I had never had a student from a low SES or disadvantaged background, so was forever assuming what their needs might be in hypothetical situations,” said Tully who expects to graduate in 2019.

“I feel as though the tutoring has given me a realistic perspective of students who need serious academic assistance, and an insight to the level of patience, time and understanding that these kids need to succeed.” 

Che Gordon, who will also graduate next year, agreed: “Students can be born into a low SES family or have struggles in their education for a variety of reasons. I think what I took away from the program is the importance of these students’ education. Despite their circumstances or challenges, with a good education, they can become anything they choose to be.”

“NETDS places the most talented and gifted teachers in front of kids who need them the most,” program founder, Prof Bruce Burnett from ACU’s School of Education said. 

“Many NETDS students have never experienced teaching in a low SES school, yet once they get into these schools on their professional placements something happens – they might engage with a kid, maybe see how their teaching or something they do turns that life around, and realise how powerful teaching can be.

“A fire in the belly erupts. These teachers would make a difference anywhere they teach ... but boy they make a huge difference in these schools.”

Prof Burnett wanted to change perceptions of working in low socio-economic schools. He employed a four-step process to address the social issue of educational disadvantage. This includes:

  • Identifying the highest academically achieving student teachers at the end of their second year
  • Changing perceptions of low SES schools by helping those students understand poverty in a way that doesn’t rely on negative stereotypes
  • Exposing NETDS students to low SES schools in a scaffolded, planned and mentored way so they return following positive experiences
  • Helping connect NETDS students with low SES schools and their respective education departments to facilitate the employment cycle.

Participants in the NETDS program will this month complete professional placements in 10 schools across Queensland. NETDS graduation destination data for the program shows a 250% increase in teaching graduates beginning their careers at low SES schools.


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