Last week, out of nowhere, government added a proposal to the Education Act update that would allow Teach First teacher trainees to be in the classroom unsupervised.
Yes, that’s right – a trainee with no qualifications in teaching would be allowed to be in charge of the whole class unsupervised.
You have to wonder why that would be proposed? What’s the justification?
Fishy goings on?
Before getting to the education issues, I first have to ask, how is it acceptable to add in such an important change to the proposed Education Act amendments without informing people so we have a chance to submit? That’s not democracy; it’s underhand, disingenuous and it’s railroading.
You have to wonder what the process was that led to it being put in at the very last minute, too. The cynic in me can’t help but wonder whether it was purposefully held back just long enough to leave no time for people to put up submissions about the plan. If that’s not the reason, then why the last-minute appearance? Something’s fishy, and this time it’s not MPI’s catch quotas.
Lowering the bar
As with any proposals, we should ask who this proposal benefits and who it impacts.
We have a glut of well-trained, qualified primary trained teachers as it is, so where’s the need to lower the bar this way? What’s the imperative to have trainees in front of classrooms with no supervision?
I’d love to hear how unsupervised time in the classroom is better for the trainee than supervised training and co-teaching, where a teacher with years of experience observes and gives feedback and where the student can see the teacher at work and reflect on what works well and why.
Good self reflection on one’s pedagogical practice is something that develops over time, guided initially by mentors and becoming deeper and more meaningful as you grow as a teacher. It’s not something you can just do. After all, to begin with, you don’t know what you don’t know.
So how is being unsupervised/unmentored /unsupported a good move?
Teach First often cites that its trainee teachers have high degrees or Masters qualifications. But being a good teacher isn’t just about knowing your subject, and even more so at primary level where your subject will be only a tiny part of what you teach anyway.
Just as important as book smarts is knowing how to engage students, how to create a productive environment, how to plan effectively, how to adapt planning on the fly when you have to, how to deal with upsets, what to do to support those who struggle or who find a task easy, how to spot those who are not pushing themselves and what to do to help them, how to deal with parents’ concerns, what to do about the wriggler or the weeper or the kind that has a tendency to disrupt things. How to teach kids to analyse their own work and improve it, what to do about the kids who never push themselves and the ones who are too hard on themselves. How to help the kid that has started stealing things. How to stay calm and deal with vomit, wees and a’code brown’so that the child involved isn’t stigmatised. What to do when a lunch box is empty or insufficient. Or when a child is taking other kids’ food. How to stick to timings, how to teach students to care for their environment and pack up the classroom equipment properly and efficiently. How to encourage and support reluctant readers. And what to do when the fire alarm goes or when a kid suddenly runs out of your classroom and keeps running.
While you’re learning those things, you need a mentor on hand.
Most pertinently, it is important to ask how this impact students.
Government keeps telling us that to give students the best change of success teachers must be excellently trained. How is this excellence?
I’ve seen some good and great initial teacher trainees but also some absolute shockers, including ones with lots of classroom experience, so it concerns me that this proposal allows not just seasoned trainees but also brand new trainees to go into classrooms unsupervised. How someone with no teaching experience or training (practical or theoretical) can be expected to do a good job of teaching without guidance is mind-boggling.
As a teacher it concerns me: As a parent I am fuming.
My child is not a guinea pig. My child deserves a qualified teacher. And so does yours.