Singing Without Hope on the Boundary

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A Good Scientist is Not Necessarily a Good Teacher...
Hot on the heels of yesterday's post about the headmaster who was a not a scientist today we find out that great scientists could be fast-tracked through teacher-training. That's correct with just six months of training  the brightest Mathematicians/Scientists/Historians could be teaching children in a classroom fully qualified, but unfortunately kids are not as easy to deal with as integers/elements/primary sources in Hebrew if you haven't the requisite skills or training to deal with them.

A PGCE crams a hell of a lot into just one year. Three essays (one of them dissertation length), Monday morning seminars, meetings at university and a full timetable to teach Tuesday to Friday. Add to that the lesson planning that you have to do thoroughly every night when you're a trainee, the making of resources to stimulate pupils and the observing teacher, all the extra-curricular stuff you have to do to boost your CV and even the most talented teacher (note the emphasis) is left feeling like the living dead come the end of the year. Ask most teachers and they'll tell you that their PGCE year was one of the toughest they've ever been through and even then it does not prepare you for everything. You usually get to go to two different schools during a PGCE placement but if those schools are similar then you are left without experience if you finally get a job in a school that is markedly different. While a PGCE may not be ideal in someways in others it's one of the best ways we have to train teachers and it's a busy year. Cramming that experience into six months? Come off it. Either the trainees will be dead by the end of those six months or you are cutting stuff out of the course in order to rush these great people through.

My main gripe though comes with this quote from rent-a-gob cabinet minister Liam Byrne:

"We know there are a lot of fantastic mathematicians, for example, who would have once perhaps gone into the City but now actually might be more interested in a career in teaching,"

"What we have to do is make sure the very best people are able to get into a classroom as quickly as possible."

Brilliant, just brilliant. I'll deal with the City bit in a moment but the first thing I'll do is talk about these fantastic mathematicians and the getting them into the classroom as quick as possible.

On a school placement I was on recently we had a new student come arrive who was indeed brilliant at his subject. He knew his maths (far me than me or the Senior Mentor at the school), his subject knowledge was not in question but he was struggling to teach it. Aside from the fact that the school was a quite a rough one so teaching anything to the kids was difficult at the best of times he was struggling to engage the pupils with the subject material. Why? Well after much discussion it turned out that he was struggling to break it down. Because complex calculations had become second nature to him he was finding it difficult to go right back to the beginning and break down even the most elementary things into something the pupils could understand. People who are brilliant at things often work on a different plain to us average Joes (and Joeseses), that's what makes them brilliant at what they do, unfortunately it doesn't mean that they are going to be good teachers. What does make a good teacher? Well subject knowledge is certainly one thing, but it isn't the only thing and it isn't even the main thing. I would argue that an ability to communicate information in an effective and oft-times interesting way is far more valuable to a teacher than raw subject knowledge, but then what do I know I've never worked in the City and I'm not a cabinet minister.

The problem is quite clear. A good scientist does not necessarily make a good teacher and I'm sure scientists would probably argue the reverse. Some might make good teachers but you certainly aren't going to find that out in a deeply truncated version of teacher-training and those who have taken the path are not going to find out whether they are suited to it in just six months either. This plan then is quite obviously bonkers.

The worst thing about this though is the way it smacks of giving out easy jobs to City folk who are losing out in this recession and this is for two reasons.

The first is that this government obviously has such a high opinion of teachers and education that it is willing to foist people who could very well be bad teachers onto children and schools with only six months of training. It has such a high opinion of teachers and education that it is now offering this opportunity to people as a make-do option because they've lost their job in the City. It has such a high opinion of teachers and education it knows exactly what makes a good teacher and is using that to lead this recruitment drive. Come over to teaching folks, I know it doesn't pay as well as the City, but you know you can make-do here until the inevitable boom time and then hotfoot it back to money time again. Sounds good doesn't it and I wonder who will have to pick up the pieces when they do.

Secondly there are a lot of hard-working and dedicated people out there who are training to be teachers. Doing the whole PGCE year after three years studying their subject at university. People who will become good teachers. I've been training for nearly four years myself to become a teacher and the thought that some guy who may have lost his job in the City lobbing peoples' money down the drain as he did could be teaching in a classroom next to me after six months of training makes me feel sick.

Once again New Labour makes a mockery out of the '97 slogan of Education, Education, Education because now we know what they really think education is. A stop-gap for City folks during a recession and nothing proves this more than cutting the time needed to train. After all that next boom might be just around the corner. I know Gordon's hoping so...



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