I’ve been pondering the idea of writing about trainees for a while. Being married to MVNTH, I have close hand experience of what life for a trainee is like these days.
I can vaguely remember my own days as a trainee (although we were called ‘students’ back then!). Being buried under mountains of paper, finding unnecessary links between documents and writing lesson plans for every movement within the classroom. I did well as a trainee: I kept on top of my workload (for the most part), I listen to my class teachers and I did well in my teaching. But despite that, some of my memories of training have been marred by the teachers I worked with. Some of them were fantastic. My final placement, in particular, was absolute heaven. A tiny village school in a beautiful Cotswold village. I was entrusted with the keys to the school, the alarm code and, most importantly, access to the photocopier from day one. Whilst I received guidance from my class teacher and mentor, I had freedom to plan as I chose. She observed when I needed observing, supported when I needed it, but trusted me to do things my way. As a result, I flourished there. So much so that I left applying for jobs until the very last minute as I was desperate for a vacancy to come up there. It didn’t come up in time, which, in hindsight, was probably for the best. This was a stark contrast to my year 2 placement. Everything I did was scrutinised with a fine tooth comb, trainees were not allowed in the staff room before half past 12, as they should be preparing their lessons. The stock cupboard was locked and could only be entered at certain times of the day and with the headteacher present. And worst of all was my report. It contained criticisms of my planning and teaching which had NEVER been brought to my attention. I left there with good grades, but I still have a bitter taste in my mouth that any concerns the class teacher had about me were clearly not important enough to discuss with me, but significant enough to commit to black and white in my report.
I hope that my experiences as a student have shaped the way that I interact with trainees in my classroom today. Certainly, the experiences of MVNTH and his peers will have done. Having a trainee in your class has its pros and cons, but ultimately, it is a privilege. You are being trusted with shaping the career of a future teacher, and what you do with them and for them will change the teacher they will become. Now, I’ve had a fair few trainees in my class over the years. Ask my colleagues: some of them are etched on our memories forever. Some for good reasons, some for not so good. But I would hope that, whatever their standard, I have treated them fairly. We all have busy schedules, but for a trainee, sparing a few minutes to read through a lesson plan can make the difference between a stunning lesson and a disastrous one. Making a few tweaks WITH the trainee, not for them, can be a massive learning experience. We all have ideal lessons floating around in our heads, and for those old timers who have taught the objective many times before, we know what works and what doesn’t. But a trainee can bring new, fresh ideas to the classroom. They might know of knew technology that we haven’t heard of yet. They have a network of trainee colleagues who also have new ideas to share. Just because they aren’t teaching a lesson OUR way, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a good way.
I can perhaps be accused, as many of us can, of ignoring a trainee from time to time. In the chaos of meetings, 1:1 tuition, clubs and speaking to parents, it can be all too easy to ignore the new person sitting in the corner. Often they can be afraid to ask for time, knowing how busy we are, but the more we invest in our trainees, the more we get back. There have been one or two who I have had to ask if teaching really is the right choice for them, but only once I have really got to know them. So many people go into teaching because they don’t know what else to do, and they don’t fully appreciate the job. As experienced teachers, it’s our job to ensure they know exactly what they’re getting into. Not scare mongering, of course, but many trainees don’t fully appreciate just what goes on before 9 and after 3. We need to fully immerse our students in school life: bring them into assemblies, invite them out to do playground duty, let them join in with clubs and include them in meetings. If they can survive the workloads of their placement while having a go at everything else the day brings, and they are still having fun, then the rest of it can be worked on. If someone really wants to do this job, then with the right support, we can show them how to be outstanding teachers. We can’t just leave our trainees to get on with it on their own; we can’t just give them pass on their placement because it’s easier than having a difficult conversation about their future. We can’t just raise issues at the end of their practice rather than giving them the chance to develop. Because, you never know, the next teachers they work with might just do the same. And then one day, at the end of their trainee days, they’ll be getting a job that they aren’t fully equipped to deal with.
Would you want that person to be teaching your child?