My Experience With Curtin Department of Education

My name is Albino D’souza and I was a student of Edith Cowan University

I secured admission at ECU for the above course after my termination in the same course from Curtin University of Technology in January 2006.This article is to bring to readers attention some very serious concerns about my teaching practicum Unit ED 543 and particularly the conduct of my supervisors from Curtin namely Mr Robert Dixon and his wife Mrs Kathryn Dixon working at the Education department at Curtin. They have demonstrated gross misconduct, lack of professionalism and concern for me as a full fee paying International student studying at Curtin for acquiring a teaching qualification.

In order to acquire a teaching qualification from Curtin it is necessary to complete 175 credits of theory units and 25 credits in two teaching practicum in your major and minor learning area. I had finished all my theory units with considerable success but have had a tough time complete my practicum units despite having ten years of successful teaching experience in my home country.

In November 2004 I did my first field experience practicum at Wanneroo Senior High School as a part of my Grad Dip in Secondary Education. At that time my supervisor was Mr Robert Dixon. During my prac I did make some serious mistakes in my work. I must state that though my major was in SOSE (Society and Environment) my supervisor Mr Robert Dixon came to evaluate two of my Music lessons in that school. Towards the end of the prac i.e. on the last day he did come to see one of my SOSE lessons and failed me on grounds of incompetence and my lack of practice in my major learning area.

The first flaw was I feel in the supervisor Mr Robert Dixon himself coming to evaluate my Music lessons knowing fully well that I have to accomplish a major in SOSE. I did ask him prior to the prac whether he would want to see me teaching Music and he agreed to the preposition. After observing the first Music lesson he expressed a desire to see another Music lesson after incorporating some suggestions he kindly consented to offer. He should have put his foot down in the first place and should have said that he was not interested in watching me teach Music when he knew very well I had a major in SOSE (Society and Environment) and Music was not even my minor. This lapse on the supervisor’s part should be noted. When I had a debriefing session after the first prac with my supervisor in his office Mr Robert Dixon told me very sarcastically that it was very uncommon for International students from Asian countries to Australia and aspire for teaching positions. It was something not encouraged. He also mockingly said that I could complain about him if I was upset with his conduct.At that time however since even the school was not too happy with my performance in SOSE I did not see any chances of an appeal being successful. Hence I made no appeal at that time hoping that I could do better in future.

I had to repeat the prac and pay the full fees for the same $975. My next practicum was at Kent Street senior High School. The supervisor send by Curtin this time was none other than Mrs Kathryn Dixon the wife of Mr Robert Dixon my first supervisor.

The reports prepared by the School and the Supervisor this time where interestingly dichotomous. The school adjudicated me as competent and suggested that I would be an asset to the teaching fraternity while the Supervisor thought other wise. This time however I not only excelled in teaching in my major and minor teaching areas namely SOSE and English but also did exceptionally well in Music (which I have been teaching for the last ten years and English literature). However the supervisor Mrs Dixon (legally married partner of the earlier supervisor Robert Dixon) was nevertheless not impressed with my performance despite receiving several emails from school staff members about my performance.

I decided this time I was not going to take things lying down and would have to act to see that justice was done. I did appeal my results, went to grievance officers and the student guild at Curtin and wrote endless letters trying desperately to expose the commented bias of Mrs Dixon. However the department refused to consider my alligations of collusion between the two supervisors and said it was incorrect and unwarranted which I think is highly unusual .

There are several aspects over looked by the Education department at Curtin in not upholding my appeal. I shall elaborate on each of them.

The first point of concern is the breach of confidentiality by Mrs Dixon who informed Kent street schoolteachers that I was undertaking a repeat prac, which is something very unethical, and rather disturbing. The Education department and the Dean Mr Graham Dellar have not made any attempt to uncover the truth in this respect despite my countless pleas.
It is given that Ms Dixon came to observe my SOSE lesson on the 15th of September 2005.After that, she had a discussion with the school staff. Later that very morning my Co operating Teacher Mr. Garry Shepherd came up to me and asked me a question which scared the living day lights out of me. He inquired “Albino how many pracs have you done before?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question. When I was first assigned Kent street school My course Co-ordinater Mr. Richard Courtney advised me that on no grounds was I to tell Kent street school that I was repeating my first practicum .He said that any kind of adverse prior knowledge negatively conditions the school and makes them biased towards the student especially if the school knows that the student has failed an earlier practicum. He also reiterated that no one in the department had told the school about my eventful past and that I was to undertake this practicum as if I was undertaking it for the very first time. In accordance to instructions I told the school that I had finished all theory components and had only practicum to complete and was undertaking the same as I had missed practicum due to personal reasons.

All said and done I was really shocked when my co-operating teacher asked me that question. It was then that I gathered that the supervisor Mrs. Dixon had disclosed the fact that I was undertaking a repeat practicum to the Staff at Kent Street. The timing was just right. The supervisor had made her visit to the school that morning. The staff at Kent Street is certainly not psychic to gather that I was not undertaking a repeat practicum, nor would they just get a dream about it. The Dean of education still insists that Mrs. Dixon did not tell Kent Street School that I was undertaking a repeat practicum. How then did they come to know? I strongly feel however that Mrs. Dixon who came with her own self fulfilling prophesy tried to influence the school that I was just a failure and I ought to stay that way. Her comments in her report hint the same in very subtle overtures.

In spite of the above occurrence the dean of Education still rules out the possibility of there being a collusion between the husband /wife team of examiners who operate from the same Building at Curtin which I feel is like trying to lead everyone up the garden path.
In the first place by sending a husband wife combination of supervisors to access an international student who not only stands out because of his colour and accent but also qualifications in various diverse fields the university is not giving any one an impression of fairness. What greater collusion can you expect more than a conjugal union? It is really wishful thinking not to expect any kind of collusion between two adults who literally share the same bed. Given the fact that I am just one of the very few International students studying at the dept of Education it would be just incredible?

Another interesting fact about my unceremonious Kent Street Practicum cannot be over looked. My Kent Street Prac was over on the 23rd of September 2005.On that day the 23rd of September I signed the school Practicum report in the presence of my co operating teachers and was very happy that the practicum had come to a conclusion and the school had given me a pass grade. I had no contact with Mrs. Dixon at that time since she had given me no oral feedback or debriefing after observing my second lesson which is very strange as every supervisor does tend to debrief a practicum student after observing a lesson according to my experiences of earlier supervisors and subsequent supervisors at Edith Cowan university. In case the student is busy on that day supervisors usually make an appointment to personally talk to the student on the next day or sometime during the practicum in order to give the student verbal feedback and seek clarifications on certain things observed in the classroom which might have been misunderstood.

At Edith Cowan university I have supervisors not only calling me on my cell phone but also sending me email messages on week day evenings during the practicum. By doing so supervisors display their concern for their students especially during the stressful periods of school practicum’s and endeavor to work collaboratively with the student to achieve success. I have enclosed emails from my subsequent supervisors to demonstrate the same. However Mrs. Dixon made no such contact and it is evident from the conflicting reports that she did not make any reasonable attempts to contact the School or me in the last week to check on my progress. In fact, to make matters worse any positive reports from staff members of the school send to the supervisor Mrs. Dixon by email were coldly disregarded as frivolous.

Although Mrs. Dixon coldly told me that she was happier with the second lesson she said she would speak to the co-operating teachers after handing out to me her voluminous written comments with no indication of whether I had passed or failed. I assumed that the teachers would give her a piece of their mind and she would create no problems for me in this practicum as her husband had done in the earlier practicum given that this time I had completed my practicum in Society and environment and had a positive experience with many teachers at Kent street school .

While Kent street Senior High School Prepared its report on the day which was the last day of my practicum 23rd of September 2005 and got my initials, signature and approval Mrs. Dixon’s report is dated 21st of October 2005. I did not see the report until the 22nd of October 2005 and did not even know that I had failed the practicum according to the supervisor since the report was not signed or seen by me which it had to be an the 23rd of September 2005.

Doesn’t it not come as a surprise as to why would or rather why should a supervisor prepare a report 28days after a prac is over when university guidelines say that results ought to be declared within a maximum of 2 weeks since the conclusion of an event or submission of an assignment?

In fact I received the supervisor Mrs. Dixon’s reports only a month after the conclusion of the prac while the school report which indicated a pass was signed by me on the very last day of the prac 23rd of September. Thought the school report was not received by the university due to postal delays and school holidays Mrs. Dixon’s report should have been disclosed to me first since she worked at the Department of Education at Curtin and did not have to use postal services or the excuse of school holidays to make know her intentions of failing an international student a second time.

Also if you read the supervisor’s written feedback a lot of it is largely negative highlighting only my negative points in teaching, which is a classic example of selective perception. She displays symptoms of excessive fault finding syndrome counting the no of negatives (Don’t, never, do not, cant) in the report which is in sharp contract to the positives you will see in other supervisors reports from Curtin and Edith Cowan University. The final report prepared by Kent Street and Mrs. Dixon is surprisingly and strikingly dichotomous which is really absurd given the fact that the supervisor only observed two classes while the teachers in the school observe nearly 35 lessons over a period of four weeks. They however gave me written feedback for just a few lessons seen in the first week and gave me no written feedback for lessons in the third and fourth week when I had improved considerably in teaching.

All said and done given that I had been passed by Kent Street School and failed by Curtin Supervisor Mrs. Dixon in the absence of the at risk procedure the next best safe alternative to ensure a success would be to allot me a supplementary practicum at the same school with a different supervisor as written in the Edu 543 Hand book. Please see attached photocopies of the same. Giving me a supplementary at the same school (Kent Street) would have made matters a lot easier since I had to only acquire the approval of a new supervisor as the school was already convinced of my teaching abilities. Sending me on a supplementary to a totally new teaching environment (St Stephens) is totally destroying and demolishing all my hard work and effort put into my earlier teaching practicum at Kent Street and amounts to starting all over again from scratch. It is back to square one since I now have a totally new school and new supervisor to deal with. By mindlessly sending me to a totally new school to complete a supplementary Prac Curtin has not considered the physical; and psychological strain this would cause me as a student.

Interestingly the new supervisor Dr John Happs who was evidently not related to the Dixon’s in any way seemed quite happy with my performance as seen in his report. Quite contrary to Mrs. Dixon’s pessimistic five page report after observing my first lesson Dr Happs one page brief report concluded with the sentence “Well Done”. Probably Dr. Happs was listening and observing what I was doing in class instead of mindlessly writing page after page, which seemed to be quite an obsession with Mrs. Dixon.

Fate however had different plans for me. This time paradoxically the school was not happy with my performance and asked that my practicum be terminated. The reasons stated were quite different to the reasons given by the supervisor Mrs. Dixon in the earlier prac. For example St Stephens School expressed a concern that I was reluctant to listen to advice while Kent Street School had stated that listening and acting upon advice had been one of my major strengths. The main reasons sited by Mrs. Dixon were talking over the top of students

And incompetence in planning while St Stephens mentions no such reasons in its report. St Stephens School was concerned over the excessive kind of musical repertoire used by me in teaching while Kent Street or Mrs. Dixon make no such kind of allegations. It would be good in this case to illustrate the analogy of a doctor who being skilled to tackle a certain variety of common illnesses and ailments in a certain country having problems in settling down in a foreign country where he is faced with a complete new assortment of illnesses and cultures. In other words having done two earlier pracs in a public/state school system I now had to deal with a totally new set of problems and difficulties in adjusting to teaching in a private school system where problems would arise more on account of interference by parents and other staff members not involved directly in my practicum rather than in actual classroom teaching which is in striking contrast to my earlier situation of teaching in public schools.

Since the school terminated my practicum I was terminated from the course. This time however I was not given an opportunity by the university to express my concerns and was not given a hearing despite having written feedback from staff members in St Stephen’s school with regard to teaching in that school.

It was with great great difficulty that I managed to convince the staff at Edith Cowan University to enroll me into their education course after having such a disastrous run at Curtin in regard to school practicum.

After reading the feedback reports of Edith Cowan University supervisors and the report by Dr John Happs the Curtin Supervisor it can be easily gathered that the allegations made by Mrs. Dixon are rather unfounded and baseless given the fact that no teacher in Kent Street school was upset by my practicum performance. Even on grounds of rationality the report prepared by Mrs. Dixon cannot be regarded at face value giving her close relationship with the first supervisor Mr. Robert Dixon.

I am not so sure about Curtin, but Edith Cowan university has a strict policy of not sending any of its students on pracs to schools where the student have studied before or where their friends and close or distant relative work in order to ensure impartiality and to avoid favoritisms. Very scrupulous checks are carried out to ensure this. They also do not send supervisors who are closely related to observe the same student as this creates suspicions of having collusion.

By sending supervisors who are closely related to observe two of my consecutive pracs Curtin has actually made a mockery of the entire practicum exercise since the possibility of collusion between the supervisors cannot be ruled out.

Hence my complaint centres on the following main areas.

1. Sending supervisors who were related to each other (Husband and wife) and consequently not giving the general public or me as a student an impression of fairness and impartiality. That supervisors and schools have a conflict with regard to student evaluation is an exception rather than a rule. This is an example of THE LADY MACBETH MODEL OF SUPERVISION.

2. The supervisors’ vicious and audacious attempt at influencing and Informing the school that I was undergoing a repeat prac, which is unjustifiable and unethical since the schoolteachers had no knowledge of my first prac. It symbolizes gross manipulation of authority.

3. The supervisor Mrs. Dixon writing her final prac report a month after the completion of the prac, which does not allow the application of at risk procedure.

4. The university not applying the AT risk procedure, which is clearly stated In the Field experience booklet under which the university has to send a new supervisor in case the earlier supervisor is unhappy and the school is happy with the student.

5.Alloting a supplementary at a totally different school when the Field Experience handbook EDU 543 clearly states that a supplementary at a different school is awarded when both the school and the supervisor administer failing grades to the student. In my situation I received a falling mark from the school and the supervisor in my first prac at Wanneroo Senior High School. However during my Kent street school experience I received a failing report from only the supervisor and a pass report from the school. Thus technically I am allowed to complete a supplementary at the same school, which was not done. Instead I was sent to a new private school which actually only complicated and made matters worse.

6.Not giving me an opportunity to clarify and discuss certain issues raised by my third prac school St Stephen’s and my subsequent termination, which could have been avoided.

I have completed my teaching qualification and now completing a Masters of Edcutaion at Notre dame university.Mu advise would be that international students ought t think twice before enrolling in Curtin which would be the kiss of Death if you do.

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