Posted by: Shireen | August 10, 2009

Step it up, please (Part 1)

I read this article in The Economist about Teach First, an organisation that is trying to get “high flyers” to get into teaching, since a think tank has found that the kind of people that go into teaching are often the students that did not do very well at univeristy.  Not always true…I have taught with amazing super teachers in the last 6 years.  But then again, I have also taught with people who thought they could sail through the day without much work.

Teach First provide a six week program to train these high flyers and then send them into the classroom.  Not just any old classroom; some of the hardest to teach areas in England.

“As Teach First becomes better known, teaching will start to be seen as a job for ambitious go-getters,” the article says.

If you could spend one day in a school in an inner London borough, you too would agree that only ambitious go-getters need apply.  So not all the teachers out there are from the bottom of the heap.  There are so many out there changing the world one child at a time. I know many super teachers who work hard with children who have been labelled “hard to reach”.

Okay, on the whole, I totally agree with the idea that teaching programs should be vigorous and demand respect from the students and at the moment, not many post secondary institutions are demanding this from their graduates and teachers are going out into the field unprepared to teach.

The teaching program I did in university was not challenging enough for the students and did not really prepare me for the real life job of teaching, especially in teaching hard to reach students.  That I learned on the job from the staff and students at a very special school in East London.  The profs in my program had been out of the classroom so long that they could not support us in any practical way – they simply stuck to outdated theory.  I had only one prof who challenged us.  She gave tough assignments and was still in touch with the type of children we were meeting in the classroom.  It was obvious that she was up to date with recent developments and studies in the field and was eager to share and discuss them with us.  She also had high academic expectations of us.  If we couldn’t make it past her practical and academic challenges, well then, we had to take the course again.  That did weed out the students who were there for an easy pass.

I have had two student teachers in my classroom in the last six years of teaching.  The first, did not deserve my beautiful children.  She was not inspired, she was not up the the academic standard that they deserved and she had little respect for all the work that really goes into providing a positive classroom experience for children.  The second student teacher I had was a student at another university and was intelligent and inspired to teach.  She planned exciting, creative and educational lessons for the children, while at the same time completing a challenging academic program at her university.  I learned lots from her too.  She is now teaching at an inner london school and doing a great job, I am sure.  But the difference between the two students was too great.   The first one should not have been in the field at all and the second will make a difference to the children she teaches.  They were both at different univeristies, so it is clear that there is no consistency regarding the expectations of students who wish to be teachers.

Unfortunately if we have teaching programs that are wishy washy, the profession is never going to attract the best candidates.  And as a teacher, not only do I want to be around other strong teachers who care and teach at the best standard to work with and learn from, I also want this for my child and all the other children I have and will be teaching.  I want the cream of the crop for my colleagues and for my children (the ones I teach and the one I am carrying!)

Why are we waiting for an outside organisation to train teachers? Why can’t the universities provide inspirational teaching and leadership in a program?  Why can’t they prepare students to teach just as this Teach First program is doing, with relevant techniques and support from teachers who are really in the field?  I have always wanted to be a teacher – I want to teach in the areas that are the hardest to teach and I can do it.  I just wish that my university had prepared me a little better and treated me like a “high flyer” just like Teach First is doing.

People always say that teaching is a “noble” profession (which is not the way you feel after a day of teaching a class of 30 children, covered in paint and that white school glue, let me tell you), well then universities should make a better job of preparing us and sending a message to the world that teaching is challenging and important and may only the best apply, please.

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