It’s quite rare that I actually blog about teaching, but it does take up a significant portion of my life. One of the aspects of teaching that I’ve been involved in a lot over the last 10 years, and one which I’ve come to feel very strongly about, is the training of teachers.
I trained as a teacher over 10 years ago now. I had a degree, and had worked abroad for a year in a vaguely educational role. I then came back to the UK and completed my PGCE at Manchester Metropolitan University. That was a year course, and combined several weeks of University-based study and classes with three placements: Induction, Block A and Block B. During our Induction placement, we observed lots of lessons, and had a go at teaching one lesson. This was heavily supervised. During Block A, we increased our teaching timetable gradually, to reach around a 50% timetable by the end of the placement. Again, all our lessons were heavily supervised by an experienced teacher. During Block B, we increased our teaching to 70%. Gradualism was encouraged, and the amount of teaching demanded meant that we could keep up – just – with the demands of planning, marking, and those all-important University assignments.
Fast-forward 10 years, and very few people train like that any more. Most training is done in school, and a significant proportion of trainees receive very little external instruction at all. In fact, more and more trainees are simply given a timetable from 1st September, and expected to get on with it, usually teaching 80%-85% of the time. It has become a sink or swim scenario, and teachers struggle through. It’s not surprising that 4 in 10 quit. The frightening thing for me is not how many trainees are giving up: it’s that these trainees will be (usually solely) responsible for the learning of up to hundreds of students. If, for example, a class has a struggling trainee English teacher, that is one year of English where they will make very little progress. They may even go ‘backwards,’ and become disillusioned and disaffected. One year in Secondary education is one fifth of their lessons – that is a huge chunk of learning to be lost.
Of course, there will be some trainee teachers who will be amazing from the off – those who just ‘get it.’ Those who have worked in schools for a long time and know how important it is to keep on top of things right from the start. Those who have that instant rapport with the students and still manage to maintain effective classroom discipline without seeming to try. But these trainees are few and far between.
I know that the training system is not going to change any time soon. The one thing we can do better is to support our trainees. A classroom can be a very lonely place, and teaching can be a very lonely profession, especially if you’re new. So in preparation for the new school year ahead, here are my ideas for supporting our trainee teachers.
Before term starts
- Take the trainee on a tour of the school, pointing out essentials like toilets and photocopying. Introduce the trainee to people who they might need support from, especially admin and SEN staff.
- Make sure the trainee has all the resources they need – this includes classroom stationery, but also things like keys and passes.
- Go through the trainee’s timetable. If you can keep the trainee in one consistent classroom, that’s brilliant. If not, try to reduce the number of moves and provide the trainee with somewhere to put coat, bag, lunch etc.
- Make sure the trainee has got copies of – and has read – every single school policy, but most importantly, the behaviour policy and systems. Child protection training is mandatory, but surely training in the school’s behaviour policies should be too? You’d think so, except in many schools it doesn’t happen until 5-6 weeks into term. That’s too late – the damage has already been done. Make sure you spend time discussing how the trainee will implement the behaviour policy in their classroom.
- Check the trainee’s first lessons – this is the first time they will meet their class and that meeting needs to go as well as possible. Make suggestions, and if the trainee doesn’t have their lessons ready, discuss work scheduling – when will the lessons get planned? The night before isn’t good enough and will only cause you and the trainee stress. Personally, I like to see a lesson plan and/or resources at least 24 hours before it is taught – you will be able to pick up on potential issues, successes and improvements before the lesson is taught. This will ultimately make the whole experience better for students and trainee.
During the first week
- Be available before, during and after school for the trainee. They need to know where they can find you, if they have an issue or question.
- Pop in to lessons where you know the class may be tricky, or where the trainee was a bit underconfident. This way, you can nip any issues in the bud. In the same way, look for opportunities to observe and note good practice and things that are going well.
- Schedule a meeting towards the end of the week when the trainee has met all of their classes. In this meeting, get the trainee to timetable their planning and (very importantly) marking. Go through deadlines for getting data in and assessments marked – this always catches people out at the start of the school year. Discuss how the school’s behaviour policies are working out.
During the first half term
- Be aware that this is the most difficult term for most people. It feels like your classes will never make progress; the workload seems completely insurmountable, and everyone thinks about a career change. Make sure your trainee is prepared for this (but also, don’t crush them if they’re doing well).
- Have regular meetings with your trainee where you focus on Planning, Teaching, Marking and Assessment. These will probably be set out for you in the training guidelines. Make these formal meetings, and make them, if at all possible, private. I have had to overhear several trainee-mentor meetings this past year due to rooming issues, and it’s uncomfortable for all involved.
- When you observe your trainee, please remember that they are a trainee. They may have only been teaching 3 or 4 weeks. I abhor this recent development of grading the trainee as soon as they start, according to Ofsted guidelines. Even Ofsted don’t give individual lesson grades, so why should we give them to trainees, especially in their first few months of training? Be kind – we were all there once.
Having a trainee in the department can be brilliant. They bring ideas, enthusiasm and energy. For many students, having a new teacher can mean a new start. However, it can also be stressful and wearing. If you’re supporting a trainee, it can feel like you’re doing your work and their work. Hopefully, by getting the support in from the start, it will make things easier for your trainee, yourself and your students.