What constitutes good teacher training?

June 10, 2019 6:10 pm
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When thinking about this subject it is hard not to hark back to your own experiences and see the whole area through that prism. However, I think as a starting point it is a useful exercise in so much that my teacher training formed the basis of my practice and attitudes for the next 25 years. The values that were instilled in me were core to the way I looked at education and how I viewed my role and the profession as a whole.

What I should state at the outset was that like most people, I was not a teacher by calling or vocation and had started my professional career in insurance on a graduate scheme. The tedium of this and the complete mismanagement of the programme plus a dawning awareness that I hated the industry led to a reappraisal of what I did like and that was initially History. A quick look around the job market was enough of an eyeopener to realise that this was a limited outlook and the net would have to be significantly widened. Talking to a lot of younger teachers this is an experience that is oft repeated, and you should never be concerned that you were not “born” to be a teacher. The next stage was that my initial degree allowed me to apply for a PGCE and after a surprisingly onerous interview I was accepted onto the course at the university I had gained my degree from.

After an initial euphoric period of celebrating my escape from the world of FSAVC’S and London brokers shouting at you about not knowing enough about executive pensions the realisation began to dawn that the theory of teaching and most of the lectures was not something that was rocking my boat. In fact, I was so disillusioned that I nearly left. A lot of the lectures seemed detached from schooling, or very politically motivated or just plain boring. However, the advent of the teaching placement changed all that!

I was sent to a semi-rural 11-16 comprehensive and not knowing any better got the local bus. That was my first eye opener. I was unknown to the “mob” on the bus but just being surrounded by hordes of unsupervised teenagers was quite unnerving. I decided from that point I needed a newspaper to bury my head in for the next six weeks. The staffroom was a classic, small groups in predefined areas and no chance of borrowing a cup for a tea or coffee. I was then brought down to the History office and this is where my education began.

My mentor Dave was a friendly bloke and welcomed me to the tiny office and showed me where I could sit. Roger the Head of Department was much more taciturn, and I put this down to him being a Lancastrian and a Blackburn Rovers fan by the look of his tea mug. This was a guy who would not be giving out compliments like candy and you would do well to earn his respect. My timetable was set and for the next few days I was on observations. I quickly realised that these two teachers were people who I could learn all of the basics to make me a good teacher in my early years in the profession. They both had everything, great discipline, respectful rapport, well produced resources and enthusiasm and energy by the bucket load. It was no surprise that History was a popular subject and these two men were viewed as “backbones” of the school if not career builders. As all young teachers, I had good and rough days, but my observations were always fair and the advice to the point and if taken on board likely to make you a better teacher.

I was thrilled with my report from Roger to the university and humbled by his positive but honest appraisal of my abilities and shortcomings. I embraced all I could from that productive time. I went on a brilliant field trip to the Lead mines of Derbyshire, mixed with industrial history at Beamish and the amazing theatre at Richmond. From this I learned that kids enjoy learning in a structured manner and even on a trip can be worked extremely hard and get so much out of it that I never heard one complaint. The culmination of this happy time was to be invited to play in the staff cricket team and be part of the social life there. I realised that a good school had hard working, connected individuals who believed in the management and went the extra mile for the kids and loved their jobs. From that base I was able to graduate into the job market relatively prepared for the rigours of a full-time teaching job.

To recap and add clarity to the original question:

  • Make sure the school you are linked with can train you and have the time to do so. Too many trainees are “thrown to the lions” not through malice but through lack of time to help them.
  • If you find an experienced colleague, in whatever guise they come under see @thosewhocan and the amazing story of Barry for inspiration, hang on to them they will be invaluable.
  • There will be tough days but dig in and look for advice- try to ensure you have a network within your school who can help you.
  • Work hard, prepare well and be resilient. This will be like an experience you will never have again. Embrace it, try to enjoy it and learn from it.

Thank you to Roger and Dave- hopefully happily retired on a decent pension. You deserve it and helped shaped a career that had no direction -eternally grateful.