Part of the PGCE problem…

According to a 2017 survey carried out by the Association of Teachers and Lectures 73% of trainee and newly-qualified teachers have said they are considering dropping out of the profession. This stark statistic is perhaps quite shocking to anyone who has not experienced the life of a teacher. I have so often heard teachers be mocked for their six week holidays and ‘short days’. However, from within the profession, in far too many cases, this statistic might cause far less surprise. As someone who is about to start their teacher training year, this figure is a daunting prospect. At least it was until I had my first induction day and I realised where this number might, at least in part, stem

I was instantly struck by how overwhelmed trainee students are made to feel about the year to come, let alone the rest of their careers. A cohort of eager and passionate individuals left this induction day seemingly exhausted and downtrodden, instead of invigorated and excited. I was under no illusion that the year ahead would be easy, but the ways in which we were told it would be hard did not seem wholly necessary…

Firstly, we were told that we should split each lesson down into five or six smaller lessons in order to keep the learners ‘engaged’ (of course employing the use of different learning style techniques). We then moved on to what is expected of us in the actual planning of these lessons. It was explained to those in the room that throughout this year we are expected to spend around two hours (!) planning each 50-minute lesson, but not to worry, for the rest of our careers this will then go down to about an hour. Phew! In doing this we would build our own catalogue of lesson plans. This is done because spending so much time on every lesson is just how things work… or so we were led to believe.

Those coming in to the profession and being told that this is standard classroom practice by the academics often means that the accepted orthodoxy surrounding these ideas will constantly fail to be challenged. Why would it be? Who would know classroom methods better than those who have studied it for years and written papers and books on the subject?

Now, the problem seems to come when this produces generation after generation of capable and talented teachers who end up spending a large amount of their time on menial and unnecessary tasks. Ranging from time consuming but ineffective lesson planning to catering to learning styles. If young individuals are coming into the profession being told that these are the things that will make them good and effective teachers, it can, and often does, act to the detriment of their well-being and so effects their student’s learning. Unachievable and impractical expectations are placed on teachers, to a point where they can, in no way, fulfil the criteria required in delivering effective and passionate teaching. When only one narrative is spun to a class of trainee teachers, this one-sided view is all they are going to experience. Far too often within the academic side of a PGCE, only the progressive story is told, and this is portrayed as gospel. In my induction day, I politely commented on the absurdity of organising several mini-lessons within one lesson and expressed my shock at the amount of time it was supposed to take. However, I was told that this is the best and only way to ‘engage’ with every type of learner. The eager and passionate trainees who sat around me soaked this up and will go on to put these ideas into practice; no doubt diluting their passion and eagerness in the process.

It is a given that skills such as planning lessons are necessary and ought to be taught in training. However, as I hope you have picked up, it seems absurd that it should be taking anyone even close to double the time of the actual lesson to produce. There seems to be a bigger question at stake here. Why are student teachers (and a lot of teachers in general) expected to build, from scratch, their own repertoire of lessons and lesson plans? The topics we teach in schools have been taught a thousand different times by a thousand different teachers. It appears illogical for there to be an expectation that so many lessons and their components  should be produced from scratch, by trainee teachers who are, after all, pedagogical novices. Other, expert teachers’ lesson plans could be altered, edited or expanded; so why is there not a wider pool of research based and quality assured resources and plans to draw upon? Enabling teachers to spend more time teaching, becoming experts in the topic, mimicking expert teachers and less time planning lessons in their own hit and miss way. I appreciate that in some school networks this is the case, but in so many others, especially for those teachers who are starting out in their career, there is no such pool to draw on. This seems to be a fundamental flaw in the teaching training system, and one that needs to be addressed if we are to retain the brightest and best in this profession.

Many people would argue that the skills developed in one’s PGCE year often do not wholly fit with classroom practices and the daily life of an actual school; acting instead as a necessary box that needs to be ticked. Catering to pupils learning styles rather than how to expertly model a concept so pupils understand. A trainee teacher should not have to spend an exhausting number of hours creating potentially ineffective lessons and ancillary resources in order to pass their teaching qualification. They are experts in their subject. They should instead be focusing on the most effective and efficient way to impart their knowledge to students; how to sequence concepts so pupils understand; how to enable pupils to remember what they have learnt, and so on.

It is a tragedy we lose so many teachers from the profession, but this is something that can be addressed. The growing influence of research based pedagogy and a steady shift to training schemes that are school-lead is helping this process, but ultimately, this is something that lies with university PGCE courses. They need to change if we have any hope of creating an effective workforce, and ultimately changing the lives of more young people.

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