Educator ‘on the right track’

IN her youth, Dr Margaret Plunkett’s future appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but she surprised many when she chose to walk another path.

With a degree in economics and law under her belt from Monash University in Clayton, and inspired by the passion of her former year 12 economics teacher, she decided to become a teacher.

Thirty years after she decided not to pursue a career as a lawyer, Dr Plunkett’s passion for the field of education has won her numerous accolades, most recently the title of Australia’s Teacher Educator of 2012 at the Australian Teacher Educator Association’s annual conference in Adelaide.

“(Winning) is nice affirmation I am on the right track; it’s a great motivator,” Dr Plunkett, a senior lecturer in both primary and secondary school education at Monash University Gippsland said, adding she had not looked back since.

“I think it’s probably given me confidence I am still doing the right thing.”

Dr Plunkett, a former secondary school teacher, has been educating aspiring teachers at Monash University’s Churchill campus since the late 1990s.

“I thought I had a bit to offer and thought I could make a positive difference to teachers,” she said, adding her main area of research was presently gifted education.

One of her key driving forces was the feeling of pride seeing her former students mentor some of her present students, as well as watching her former students in the classroom, she said.

When asked how the field of education had changed since her foray into teaching three decades ago, Dr Plunkett said teachers today faced more diversity in the classroom.

“You have all sorts of ability levels, as well as cultural and socio-economic diversity,” she said.

“Teachers now face a different student population; students are very knowledgeable, and have access to that knowledge (through the internet).”

She said the focus for teachers now was assisting students in understanding themselves as learners, instead of just providing them with content.

“There is a lot of information out there; it’s about being discerning with information,” Dr Plunkett said.

“The role of teaching has changed a lot; you need to be flexible and assist students to become purveyors of knowledge.”

Dr Plunkett felt the key characteristics a successful teacher needed included passion, flexibility, being knowledgeable, and above all, the ability to build successful relationships.

“Teachers are not given as much recognition as they deserve; it is a very demanding, but very rewarding career,” she said.