I write this regrettably, following a series of blog posts and tweets that have circulated recently, generalising how ‘poor’ teacher training currently is. If one were to read these posts without any other knowledge of teacher training, it would be easy to surmise that teacher training is to blame for the current recruitment and retention crisis. I assure you it isn’t. Now of course I am not painting a pretty picture of the entire teacher training system. This reflection is based on my own experience of completing the Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDipEd) in Secondary Geography at the University of Birmingham. I feel it necessary to distinguish where I trained, as the reflection otherwise would hold little purpose. This course is different to many other courses, and I of course appreciate that other routes have their own positives and negatives. I feel it necessary though to reflect and demonstrate how many stereotypical views of teacher training are inherently inaccurate.
I will not credit where any of these quotes or beliefs have been taken from (you can probably hit it in one with a guess…) as that would of course be unprofessional. All points addressed are quotes/points made online, either via social media, or via a blog post.
“A sink or swim philosophy”
Quite the contrary actually. Yes, of course all trainees will most likely at some point during their training year feel like they are just about staying afloat. But what is wrong with this? Teaching isn’t easy. I would hope most other trainees are realists, and are aware that there are careers available that will probably give you an easier working life. But irrespective of this, the support available to me during my training year has been above and beyond what I would have expected. This has come in many forms, from my university tutor, to my school based mentors, to other fellow trainees. Not at any point in the year did I feel I had nowhere to turn with a problem. This philosophy in my experience does not exist.
“A cohort of eager and passionate individuals left…seemingly exhausted and downtrodden”
Exhausted and downtrodden, losing all passion and eagerness. That’s me in a nutshell. I mean, why else would I be sat here on a Sunday morning in the middle of my summer holidays writing a response in defence of teacher training? And you might think I am alone. I am not. A quick browse of fellow trainee teacher Twitter accounts proves it isn’t just me that remains eager and passionate about education, even when we should be switched off for summer.
Lesson planning initially takes two hours, dropping to just an hour per lesson further on.
Quick maths for you. I taught 15 hours a week during my second placement. There is absolutely no way that I could sustainably have done this by taking 30 hours a week to plan those lessons. It just didn’t happen. Lesson planning does not take two hours for each hour lesson. Perhaps it did for the first few weeks, at a time where I was teaching 4-5 hours a week. If drafted from scratch, and accompanied with a full lesson plan that breaks down the entirety of the lesson for your observer, perhaps it does.
But each hour lesson you teach during your ITE will not take two hours to plan. Do not let anyone scare you in to thinking this is true. It is not.
In my experience, there was never a need for a full, detailed lesson plan for every lesson I taught. There was a pro forma we would use for official observations. There were students that used this out of choice when planning. But for me, I did not have to complete a full lesson plan for every lesson. It would have been a complete waste of time. Our ‘folders of evidence’ are different to other courses, so I appreciate that some courses may require this of students (why, I do not know). Our folders are individual. We do not have to meet certain requirements, ticking off a set number of pieces of evidence for each standard. Our folders document our thought process. Our folders document our teaching experience. Our folders document us. Us as individual teachers, and not how well we’ve met eight standards.
No, there isn’t a bank of lessons and plans available for you always. But there are some excellent resources available online and within schools. I can assure you that 90% of the time, a lesson you need to plan will have been taught before, and will be available online somewhere, with excellent resources and ideas that you can adapt. I understand that you should not just be reteaching predesigned lessons. It is important for you to plan and develop your own, individual pedagogical stance. But why reinvent the wheel? Make use of the resources available. Be clever about your planning.
University PGCE was getting the certificate
And we turn to my final gripe. The one stereotype that I’d advise anyone to go to if you want to grind my gears. University courses should not be negated, and should not be a less favourable option than school led training courses. Both have their own merits. Both are equally viable options for trainees, and the choice should be based on individual characteristics and requirements. For me, training through a university based course was the better option. The ability to ease myself in to teaching. The ability to remain engaged with academia. The ability to gain 120 credits towards an MA. The ability to meet other fellow trainees that possess similar mindsets, and are now there as friends for life was important.
I will say one thing though. If government has preference over school led training courses, why pay university route students extortionate bursaries (yes, I benefitted from this), whilst those in school led training receive an unqualified teacher salary? I inherently disagree with the current format of the bursary scheme, but that is for another time and blog post.
Please do not leave this year thinking you’ve finished learning. You have not. You will continue to learn throughout your teaching career. Be proactive and remain engaged with research. University courses are not just about gaining a certificate. They are about so much more than this.
So to any newly recruited teacher trainee that is ready to start in September. Ignore the negativity. You will find it throughout this year I am sure, when you arrive in schools. It’s probably best to get some experience now of avoiding the negativity, and following the positivity. There are so many excellent teachers out there. Do not allow yourself to be dragged down by those that are inherently negative. Teaching is not perfect. But I promise you it isn’t as bad as many like to make out.
First published here
Josh Sutheran, Geography NQT