Just tell them…
Primary schools have a huge part to play in Primary ITT – trainee teachers seem to be in schools much more than ever before and it stands to reason that if we don’t like what is happening then we should stand up and say so.
The problem seems to be that in Primary there is a culture of ‘just stay one step ahead of the children’ – especially in history or geography topics where the teacher may do it once every few years. Moving year groups or key stages just compounds this – the curriculum across these very different age groups has very different demands. Not to mention the fact that the whole thing changed three years ago with absolutely no support given for teachers to brush up on their own knowledge – European History study? Coding? The Americas? And don’t get me started on chikdren’s literature – I firmly believe that their should be a reading list of core children’s books. I don’t really care what is on it, I just think it should be encouraged and seen as standard behaviour.
My own experience of teacher training now, as a Head, is very different from when I trained. My institution did their own English, Maths and Science tests. I remember talking about how to help children learn times tables by rote – how powerful chanting could be for memorising poetry and getting the ‘feel’ of the rhythm. We spent a day learning about animal habitats – and then discussed how important it is to get the children writing up scientific study. I focussed on key stage 2 and my subject specialism was ICT (as it was) – and yes, we had a children’s book reading list. I had to do an ICT test – and was tasked with learning how to create, and edit, a video. This was the year before (I think) – the national skills test. I remember trialling them in some London office and receiving my first, and possibly, last, crisp £50 note.
There was an early a lesson observation (seared into my mind!) – where I was really pleased with the ‘activity’ and the ‘busy’ classroom. My tutor sat down with me after the lesson (poetry) – and asked me a very simple question – ‘but what did they actually learn?’ – this question sticks with me now. Another memorable lesson involved the properties of solids, liquids and glass. My year 2s could not get the concept of gas being ‘all around us’ – as I was teaching it. We had balloons, we had huge sheets of paper, we made aeroplanes but I was getting more and more frustrated trying to get the children to guess ‘what was in my head’. In the end, convinced that I was on some educational version of Candid Camera I asked my teacher mentor what she would have done. In another memorable quote she answered – ‘just tell them – tell them first and then ask them to explain how we know it is true.’
Now, when trainees are ‘school based’ – there is a danger that school leaderships value the trainee who can control the class, who can please parents and who keeps the children smiling. The VAK culture – where teachers have to ensure they are hitting the needs of all learners means that our trainees are at the whim of their current class and their current leadership team. Unmanageable workloads and expectations of ‘cover’ will not help trainees. A school that ‘grows their own’ purely for fast track leadership will not sustain our system. I’m not against these systems, I just want to make sure we keep an open mind about the role of other institutions that have grown up recently.
We need to value what our profession actually does – educate.
The quality of teacher training is very patchy – and will always have an element of subjectivity – but it is right to be under the microscope like this. Those providing the training have a duty of care to their trainees and ensuring that the job is manageable is one of them. ITT providers should be able to challenge the demands of SLT in schools, should be a able to share the latest thinking with the schools without throwing out everything else that works. Universities sadly seem not to do this. Certainly in my time as a school leader none of the tutors have ever engaged me in professional debate about why I do things in my classroom. ITT should be about time to reflect, yes, but also time to study what has gone before and debate choices.
I’m enjoying this current debate – there won’t be one right answer – but let’s ensure that ITT provides our teachers with everything they need to teach. Schools systems will change and children will change – but at the heart of what we do is ensuring our children are actually learning and our teachers can teach.