High achievers learning to teach

A woman sitting at her desk, in front of her computer.

Caitlin McLachlan, participant in the Nexus program for High Achieving Teachers.

This story was first published on Thursday 17 September 2020. If you wish to use this content, please contact media@dese.gov.au to confirm that the information is still current.

The High Achieving Teachers Program is a springboard into teaching for students with a passion for social justice.

“When Nexus invited me to be involved in the High Achieving Teachers Program, it sparked a little flame within me to be the best teacher I can be for my students,” said Caitlin McLachlan, La Trobe University student based in Shepparton, Victoria.

The Nexus Program is a springboard into teaching for students with a passion for social justice. The Program combines a Master of Teaching (Secondary) with embedded employment experience in low socioeconomic schools, where program participants can make a real difference while completing their degrees.  

The Australian Government has invested $28.7 million into the High Achieving Teachers Program until 2022.  Nexus is one alternative pathway into teaching funded through this scheme.  

Pathway into secondary teaching 

La Trobe University in Victoria delivers one of the two pathways under the High Achieving Teachers Program. La Trobe University commenced delivering its Nexus Program in early 2020 with 40 high achieving university graduates joining the two year program. 

“It’s a great program to be involved in—the support and resources available to me and working with kids – it’s like no other program,” said Caitlin.

Nexus participants are placed at schools experiencing teacher shortages in Victoria with a focus on schools in regional Victoria.

In Victoria, where Caitlin is studying, Nexus works closely with many of the secondary schools in low socio-economic, regional, rural and remote areas that have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers. Nexus helps the schools identify their workforce needs, understand their predicted teacher shortages and determine where extra skills are required.

Nexus then recruits widely for students who meet the criteria for the Program and the requirements of the schools. The Program seeks people with strong interpersonal skills and resilience, the drive to become a teacher, a knowledge of hard-to-staff areas such as STEM,  and English as a Second Language and a previous university degree that is not teaching. Nexus also seeks to attract candidates from local regional areas themselves, who are from culturally diverse backgrounds or who are Indigenous.  

“As a child, I went to a school that placed a low value on literacy and numeracy and I struggled ... It wasn’t until I got to high school that I was inspired and motivated by the teachers at the school to go to university, where I studied exercise science,” said Caitlin.

“That is something I really want to emulate with the students I work with – that it doesn’t matter where they’re from or what their background is, they can achieve anything they set their minds to.”

Work placements accelerate learning and confidence

Applicants are interviewed by Nexus and school principals and successful students are placed in secondary schools in regional or metropolitan areas of Victoria as education support workers. In this carefully scaffolded program, they begin their employment on a part-time basis moving gradually to a full salary while studying. 

They are mentored and supported at each step in their roles as education support workers by Nexus program coordinators and the schools. They become embedded in the school community including spending time with local community members who also become their mentors. During the Program, students receive tailored professional development, such as trauma-informed learning and literacy instruction.  During these workshops they hear from experts on a range of issues and have access to a rich supply of learning resources.

After a term of study, they start with one day a week in the classroom in School Term 2, progressing to two days a week in School Terms 3 and 4. This helps build professional skills and confidence while still allowing time to study.

After the first year, participants begin to teach, and are employed by the school as a full-time 
para-professional with a reduced teaching load and a corresponding increase in salary. 

Support and resources to complete Master’s studies

Teaching nearly full-time while finishing the course in the second year of the Program can be intense, but Nexus and the schools are prepared for this and have the right supports in place.

“One of the challenges for me has been the workload. Time management is something I’ve really worked on this year to make sure I can do it all. But in saying that, the Nexus staff and the school has been phenomenal in supporting me,” said Caitlin.

“They understand how heavy the work can be in an accelerated course, but it’s something they are super-supportive of and it makes it really easy to manage it when you have supportive people behind you.”

Of course, no-one anticipated a global pandemic and the overwhelming challenges that would present. COVID-19 required a new approach to teaching, and these pre-service teachers and their students quickly adapted to a new way of learning.

“I’m studying my Master Course in Teaching online, so that didn’t change for me. But remote learning for students can be quite difficult. I’ve had to work even harder with my students to keep them inspired and motivated. I work with some amazing kids – they have responded so well. Kids who were previously disengaged are now proud to show me their work and tell me when they submit assignments before the due date,” said Caitlin.

“Before this, I hadn’t considered teaching as a career. There are so many highlights and benefits to the Nexus program and the individuals who run it are really phenomenal. I encourage people with a passion for making a difference in young people’s lives to strongly consider applying. You won’t regret it,” said Caitlin.

More information

To apply for the 2021 intake of La Trobe University’s Nexus Program please visit the La Trobe University’s Nexus Program website. 

Correct at time of publication.