Training to be a teacher – that’s something that’s changed a fair bit since I started my career.
The standard approach used to be either a BEd – largely for primary teachers – or a degree followed by a university-based PGCE. There used to be a bit more flexibility about whether you actually had a teaching qualification, too; I spent seven years teaching without one, and a recently retired colleague, who’d taught in a number of different schools, never had one.
It never used to be difficult to get on a PGCE in the old days either – turn up, show you had a pulse and no homicidal tendencies, and they usually let you on (judging from a couple of my contemporaries at brick uni who got onto PGCEs, a personality was an optional extra, anyway). Unfortunately, at one point people with no interest in the profession who couldn’t get into another job due to a poor degree or other “issues” used to regard it as a suitable last resort, too. That sort of thing led to the comments I used to get sometimes “You’ve got a good degree from a good university – why are you teaching?”
Now, it seems that you must have a lot of work experience to be even interviewed. Which I guess is good in that you are going to get informed, committed applicants, but it’s a bit tough for those who are in other jobs.
And so many routes to choose from! GTP, SCITT, PGCE, Teach First… I actually did a SCITT (mine also gave you PGCE, but not all do) in the very early days of them – in my case, because I’d been teaching for a while and preferred to spend my time practising with large classes (which is what I hadn’t had experience of) rather than being lectured at uni. For me, it was great – exactly what I needed – dealing with different sorts of classes, kids and age groups, supported by knowledgeable school-based mentors who could give helpful advice when a class that appeared angelic with the class teacher were a total bunch of ***** when I had them. But being in the school from the start was seriously tough for some of the younger students who were fresh out of university; it was a very different environment for them, and though we became quite a tight-knit bunch, I think it was socially a bit odd for them, as many of us were older (the ages on it were 21 to 46).
More recently, having seen colleagues work through the GTP, I have been seriously shocked by the time they had to put into it – some of them have been on a very high timetable, with effectively sole responsibility for classes, and having to write essays and complete endless paperwork on top of it. They do seem to have it much tougher than the PGCE students we get, but I’m sure they get more out of it, if they can avoid a nervous breakdown!
I can’t believe the number of boxes that have to be ticked for today’s students – not entirely convinced that all those lists of competencies really get to the essence of what makes a good teacher, but what, on paper, could?
One thing that does worry me – the tendency for PGCE students never to be left alone with a class these days. It really isn’t the same, teaching with the class teacher in the background – both because you feel you are on display, and also because they are there to step in, and the class know that, so you never really feel you are going solo, with all the benefits and problems that can entail. Yes, it can go horribly wrong – I had some appalling lessons with a Year 8 class in my teaching practice – but I learnt more from dealing with that.
There’s more of a culture now of continuing developing your teaching throughout your career, too. Has the obvious advantage of encouraging people to get better – and I know personally I’ve changed a lot of what I do over the years. It can also encourage people to admit they’d like further training in various areas, and the introduction of the Teaching Schools may mean more of that is from experienced colleagues, which is great. But we need to guard against it becoming a tick-box exercise (“show how you’ve developed …..”, “what have you improved….”) rather than a real opportunity for reflection and growth.