Everyone has to start somewhere
Like all learners, at whatever stage, you are where you are, because of the experiences you’ve had to date. Continue to be a learner; that way you’ll develop and hone skills through your actions and by sharing the journey with and through others.
As a Link Tutor with one of my local universities, I am looking forward in the next few weeks to meeting the Post Grad students who will be making their way into local schools to gain more insights into the craft of teaching and to hone their skills a little further. Undergrads will also go out into schools over the next few months.
Last week, I was involved in the introductory week for the Solent Teaching Schools Alliance, School Direct route students (Primary). As only one of these participants was in a paid route school, all the others were essentially PGCE students, each of whom has paid £9000 for the privilege of being trained to be a teacher. To save money, some had moved back to the family home, or were relying on partners for financial support. Some were adding to loans. Becoming a teacher today costs a substantial amount and is not for the faint hearted.
I had a short experience of Teach First during a visit in the summer to Bethnal Green Academy, meeting some Teach Firsters in class and, during the second day, seeing the school “invaded” by an induction group.
All routes lead to the same end. On the completion of their chosen course of study, they become qualified to teach. If they are lucky, they then run the gauntlet of application and interview and end up in a school which sees them as NEWLY qualified, not FULLY qualified, so that they receive additional training, coaching and mentoring opportunities, so that they can operate effectively.
The vast majority of these aspirant teachers have had (some) experience of school prior to their training. The School Direct group had all been teaching assistants for most of the previous year, some much longer, so they had insights into what schools are about. They now have to make a shift in their thinking to become the classroom leader, but they are all capable of doing that.
Both the Winchester Uni and the School Direct group will have a similar message, based on the Teaching Standards and discovering that the essence of teaching is a sequence of decisions, based on a simple premise- that you know your learners well.
Two diagrams sum this up and provide the basis for reflection and discussion.
Teaching Standards “dartboard”
The “Cycle of Decisions” diagram.
Advice and questions for a newbie.
What does it mean to be professional as a teacher? Develop a teacher persona; look, sound and act like a teacher at all times in the professional setting and remember the teaching standards part 2 can apply outside school.
Parents are your partners in developing their child. Make and take opportunities to develop the parent-school-child relationships. You’re the central feature during this academic year. Good, clear, effective communication really helps. Talk, write, phone, meet as necessary. Appropriate, professional communication is necessary at all times; never patronise. You have their child; sometimes the issues can be tough and emotional. Use the coaching and mentoring support of experienced colleagues.
Safeguard yourself. Find out immediately what the school procedures are for safeguarding and who the key personnel are. That way you’ll be in a position to respond appropriately should a situation arise. You and the child can then be safe.
Behaviour management. Again read the school policies and develop schemes that operate within that. Consistency is the key in behaviour. You need to be able to respond to challenging behaviours.
Analyse: Start points- know the learners well, from prior records, from talking with previous teachers, from the earliest activities. Know what is expected from the curriculum during the year.
Plan effectively over different time-scales; long allows you to breathe easy knowing that everything is covered, medium sets the road map and the detail over a few weeks, while short-term is likely to be your lesson aides memoire, things not to be forgotten. This is your basic statement of “expectation”.
Effect- Do; Make sure the resources are appropriate, available, easily accessible and returnable, that the technology works and you know how it works. Know your story really well, have the ideas and vocabulary to engage with your “audience” and, like a stand-up or improvisational actor, think on your feet, spot needs and adjust to the information coming from the audience.
Review; Always reflect after the event; what went to plan, what needed adjusting and why. This will help with subsequent planning. Mark effectively and reflect on the outcomes. Can you move on, need to go back over some bits for all or some of the class?
Record; Write notes, adjust/annotate plans, jot down things you spotted about the learners.
Teaching is a team game and your more experienced colleagues all started like you. Ask for support, help, advice or just to chew the fat with more experienced teachers. You are one of them, even if you are at a different stage. They can share their insights and experiences. Reflect on them.
Expectations will rear their heads. What are they? We all have high expectations, as far as the Teaching Standards are concerned, yet they can be somewhat nebulous as a concept. Expectations of behaviour for learning, for social interactions are likely to be central to thinking, but what about learning outcomes as expectations? Every teacher is judged on their learning outcomes, so shouldn’t this be a central plank of the high expectations? Outcomes will vary across a school, from year-group to year-group. It is essential to have a clear series of anticipated outcomes to be able to judge whether the outcome is good enough, good, or high. Moderating and discussing outcomes will be a time-consuming, but developmental activity.
And always remember; no-one has yet absolutely cracked the secret of the perfect lesson, or you’d have been trained to that formula. Every classroom, every school, every set of learners is subtly different.
In that way, you are forever an explorer and learner.
One final question. why do so few schools offer to take student teachers? each university with whom I have worked has an office dedicated to seeking places for school experience. All offer training for mentors, yet, with larger cohorts, some can be waiting until the day before practice starts before finding out where they are going. doesn’t somehow seem right, as all schools need teachers.