What Does it Mean to Be a Proficient Teacher?

Proficient teachers are just that – teachers who are good enough at teaching. 

Surely it can’t be that simple, though?

A Proficient teacher needs to do just a little more than teach. To become a Proficient teacher, you’ll need to be certified. 

Different states in Australia have different processes for certifying their teachers as Proficient. All of them will involve gathering evidence that you’ve met each focus area of the seven Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and a meeting to present your evidence.

Are you truly Proficient?

This question crosses all Early Career Teachers’ minds at some point. The truth is, if you’ve been teaching in a classroom for more than a term or two and no one has complained about your work, you’ll be Proficient. 

A young male teacher is sitting on a desk at the front of his classroom. He is pointing at one of his high school students and smiling. The students have their hands up to answer a question.

If you have a look at the APST, the descriptors for the Proficient career stage are all about doing things in the classroom. While at university, you would have demonstrated the Graduate career stage, which is all about knowing how to teach in theory. The main difference with the Proficient career stage is that now, you’ve actually done it. 

What evidence do I need to gather?

There are many ways that you can gather evidence of your teaching practice. 

For some of the standards, it will be enough to simply show your plans or resources that you’ve made or used. For some standards, you’ll need to show that you’ve used strategies in the classroom. In this case, lesson observations by another teacher are useful. 

If you need to show the impact you’ve had on your students, you can include samples of student work, student data that reflect learning and growth, or even notes and feedback written by your students.

Your teaching practice is unique, and your evidence will be too. Make sure that you have rich evidence that reflects your practice and that you annotate them to tell a story and link them to the Proficient level of each standard.

How do I know if I’ve met all of the focus areas?

Yes, you need to have evidence of each focus area. It’s not enough to have evidence for the seven standards; you need to get into each descriptor of the Proficient level. 

This can be tricky to organise because there are lots of them. The easiest way is to write each descriptor down in a list and tick them off once you have evidence of them in your portfolio.

A female teacher is standing and leaning on a shelf at the front of her classroom. Her junior primary class is sitting on the floor in front of her. She is talking and gesturing at them while they listen intently.

Some of your evidence will cover multiple focus areas which is great! Your teaching practice can’t be squashed into little boxes and it shouldn’t be. This will naturally happen as you’re putting your portfolio together. 

The trick is to ensure that you have enough evidence for each focus area. It can be tempting to focus on the areas you’re strong in or have lots of evidence for, but you must take a balanced approach.

What if I don’t meet one of the standards?

To become a Proficient teacher, you need to have evidence for each focus area of each standard. Some certifying bodies are more lenient with this, but it is best to be prepared. 

If you’re worried that you’re not meeting one of the focus areas, it is worth having a conversation with your line manager or another leader at your school. In most cases, you are meeting this focus area, but you may not be aware of it. 

If you aren’t meeting a focus area, this is a great opportunity for growth. Your journey towards ensuring that you’re meeting the standard is also a fantastic story for your portfolio! It’s great to be good at something, but it’s even better to show that you can learn and improve.

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