As a school, we work very closely with our local ITT provider. We have a huge amount of trainees in school throughout the year, and those who have struggled in previous placements are often sent to us as the University know we will support them. We even have members of staff who interview for places on the BEd course. However, there is one aspect where I think our trainees are being failed.
We have trainees of all ages through our doors: some who have taken a year or two out of education, some who have decided on a change of career for various reasons, but mostly fresh faced 18 year olds who have come straight from college. Some of those have already spent time in school, getting new experiences and making sure they have made the right choice. Others have children in school and so have based their decision on those experiences. But for some, they have just made the decision without really knowing what they are getting into.
As part of the interview process, applicants should be told what they job really entails: so many of the trainees I’ve had in my class really have no idea what the job is like: they have a rosy view that they will sit in front of a class of children who chant, “Good morning, Miss…” with their legs crossed and arms folded, hanging on their every word. The reality of teaching is so far removed from the “Miss Honey” from “Matilda” view that people need to know what they are getting into before they embark on 3 years of expensive training.
Trainees need to be told that they won’t just be teachers, they will be counsellors, mentors, paramedics, mediators, statisticians, tacticians, a shoulder to cry on, a friendly ear, a firm hand, a diplomat; they will need to know more about every subject they teach than they ever thought possible. They will need to be able to organise, to plan ahead, to think on their feet, to stay firm when all they want to do is laugh, to keep strong when all they want to do is cry, to hold the attention of a whole school, to keep the focus of one individual. They will need to keep learning for their whole career, to read articles and guidance, they will need to think of 30 different ways to say the same thing to suit every child in the class. They will hear stories from children’s family lives that breaks their heart, yet they will need to continue with their working day as normal. They need to understand that, even though 29 of their children have made enormous progress over the year, they will focus entirely on the one who hasn’t. Trainees need to know that, however great their workload, it will always get bigger. They will never be completely on top of their marking and assessment as it never ends. They will spend a fortune on stickers and stampers and all kinds of positive rewards. They will have constant junk emails as they subscribe to every teaching resource website available. They will spend hours trawling the web for resources and then end up making their own anyway. They will fill their house with books and resources that should be at school but they keep at home just in case they need them one weekend. Pound shops and 99p stores will be an adventure and a day out: they won’t be able to leave without filling a basket. Trainees need to realise that evenings and weekends are an extension of the working day and that holidays aren’t necessarily holidays, just opportunities to work without children around. They need to know that their brains will never be empty of thoughts of school, even in the middle of the summer holidays. Holidays abroad become opportunities to collect resources for topics. Holidays at home become opportunities to collect leaflets and postcards. They need to know that their friendship circle gradually morphs into an extension of a staff room, as teachers seem to attract other teachers as friends. Probably because all teachers seem to talk about is school.
But on the other hand, trainees need to know that small triumphs in a classroom feel like an enormous victory. That seeing a “lightbulb moment” in a child who has been struggling is the greatest feeling ever. They need to know that watching children enjoying a lesson which you have taken time to plan is incredibly rewarding, that a pile of marked books gives a feeling of smug satisfaction, and that the thanks and gratitude from parents at parents’ evening brings a lovely warm feeling. Watching 30 children leave your class at the end of the year, knowing that you have somehow moulded them a little bit into the adults they will become, brings a sense of pride. Going into the unknown every day with a class full of energetic, unpredictable children brings a sense of variety and adventure.
Trainees should be told that, without doubt, teaching is an enormous challenge, and is only ever going to get harder. But, despite this, teaching is surely one of the greatest jobs there is.