For a start, they have all got the minimum qualifications required and, in the case of in-school candidates, soon to take their A levels, they are forecast to achieve a string of good results, usually B+ in all subjects. These are young, enthusiastic, intelligent young people with a desire to spend up to three or four years, and, as a consequence up to £36000 in fees, learning how to become teachers.
Selection can sometimes be a whole day process, with invitees visiting the campus, undertaking a written task, a group and an individual interview. During the interview, a number of qualities are tested, with an eye towards the teaching standards. The interviewers will have their application forms, with their personal statements as reference points.
· Do the candidates present as professional in their manner?
· Do they inspire some confidence in the listeners and speak in a way that is ordered, organised and reflective?
· Can they pursue an argument and engage with challenge or the need to extend and develop an idea more fully?
The training, in a one year or three/four years is as rigorous as time available allows. University level assignments are usually set, to take advantage of the experience reflections. There are periods of time on school experience where training continues while the trainees cut their teaching teeth, working towards a 70% (3.5 days) teaching commitment timetable. At this point, they really get to understand what the role of a teacher entails. Have yet to find one who sees it as a doddle!
So, it takes time, effort and, for a large number, a significant financial outlay that may never be recouped during their working lifetime.
Having made it to the point of getting their first job, which is not always easy either, as application forms can take a couple of hours and you then need to be on the shortlist of four or five, then be selected as the one that the school wants, why do many people give up after a relatively short time?
A large number of factors can have a positive impact. Internal organisation; support and development opportunities with an interested professional guide and mentor, as well as within the whole school, ensures a team ethos. Integrated, inducted effectively, embedded within discussion and made to feel a part of the team, the newbie has a chance to grow and the team benefits from the energy and insights that they can bring. Even a seemingly “silly” question can lead to internal reflection.
The opposite is also true. If teaching becomes a solitary activity, it can become oppressive. There is a considerable weight of responsibility that goes with a class of thirty children. Any of them can bring to school issues from home that weigh heavily on their young lives. If shared with the classteacher, this can set in train a series of events that can lead to the Child Protection system. Equally, the death of a grandparent, parent or hamster can all cause trauma that disturbs the equilibrium.
If systems become stifling, requiring teachers to think and act in specific ways that are counter to their natural inclinations, the tension will build. System change can be generated from Government, but then be interpreted within the school in more detail, with systems to check the validity of the original systems, just to make sure that “everything is covered”. Back-covering can be the bane of school life, as each subject manager seeks to ensure that their responsibility is fully embedded and obvious to any outside need, such as LA or Ofsted inspection.
The external system, as in the Government, with an agenda to “improve standards”, has to take some share of responsibility for ratcheting up the pressure on schools to perform. In order to achieve this, I would suggest for political reasons as much as for the learners, there has been a diminishing of the Primary curriculum to a narrow core or maths and English, with other subjects becoming a bit of a side show. The richness of many schools, which led to achievement around 75% in English and Maths has been replaced by exam factory approaches, in the hope of achieving 85%.
Where schools have retained a rich curriculum that contributes to language acquisition, the teachers are enthused, enjoy the richness and have the opportunity to talk with children across a wide range of topics. Excitement and enjoyment of learning is a key reason why teachers remain in the profession.
Like many roles in life, where intelligent people find that their personal lives are diminished, and teaching often requires long hours outside as well as inside school, they start to look at how they can take control and make changes. Being intelligent, many with degrees and significant organisation and personality, they have the skills required by many employers and they can be trained into a new position.
Teaching requires a significant body of dedicated professionals to remain in post, to hold the “tribal knowledge” of the school and the system. The actual knowledge being shared from one generation to another, in the form of the curriculum, has not changed a significant amount over the past 45 years since I went to training college, nor the preceding years where I was at school. While the world of knowledge outside the school might alter at the extreme margins, history, geography, art, music, PE, DT, French have not changed a great deal in practice, as children enter school and start at the beginning of each subject. The order and organisation might change slightly, but the substance doesn’t really alter much, even if the classroom technology has changed beyond recognition.
The vast majority of trainee teachers whom I have met, over the past ten years of being involved in ITE in different forms, have been keen to learn, to develop their personal knowledge and just to get better at doing the job.
One only has to attend a Teachmeet or a Saturday conference, where, locally we have had a Teaching and Learning Takeover and a Pedagoo event, to see a generation of keen, young teachers wanting to develop. The potential is there, to develop and retain a generation of excellent teachers. Those I see in the classroom are invariably good or better prospects, as a result of quality assurance throughout the system.
They need good management systems around them that provide them with the best conditions within which to operate, with all necessary resources, including colleague support, to minimise distraction. These systems include reflection on planning information needing to be shared and the assessment and tracking systems that, in themselves, can become onerous through double checking.
They need and deserve good professional, developmental leadership, at all levels, if they are to be effective in their classrooms, which is where the real work happens.
Anyone starting training this year will, in the course of their training, accrue between £9000 (£20000 with living needs?) and £36000 (£60000) of personal debt. They have made a significant commitment.
It is incumbent on the system to ensure that they have the best opportunity to develop from this beginning.
The system, and future generations of children require it.