Teacher Training (or lack of it…)

I consider myself very fortunate that I didn’t go straight from my degree to doing a PGCE. I took a year out. I didn’t do the Backpacker thing, I set about getting admitted to a PGCE course for the following year, and one of the expectations was prior experience in a school.

As a History and Politics graduate, secondary History seemed like a good choice. I contacted the secondary school I’d attended as a pupil, but, although they didn’t say no to having me there for a couple of weeks, they were hardly falling over themselves to get me onboard either. My former Primary School was. “Free help? When can you start?”

I had never intended to become a Primary School teacher, but this opportunity and the support and encouragement of my former Primary Headteacher set me off on a different course to the one I’d initially anticipated.

I stayed on working as an assistant in that school for a whole year. And even secured some paid hours. This turned out to be a great opportunity. Classroom Assistants get to move all around schools. They get to see what’s going on inside most, if not all classrooms. They were still quite a rarity, outside of reception class, at this point in time, and so I was working with children and teachers across all year groups. I ran after-school clubs, got involved in the school play, and had the chance to ask all the questions I wanted. I had no paperwork to complete, and no parents to meet. And I was just itching to get started on my PGCE at the beginning of the next academic year.

When I think back to what I expected from my PGCE year, I can’t help feeling short-changed. The very least I’d have expected was:

  1. A Thorough training in the teaching of reading and writing. (including grammar and phonics)
  2. A healthy serving of classroom management strategies.
  3. An overview of the National Curriculum, which, after all, I would be expected to teach.
  4. A good grounding in Primary Maths, with a revision of the curriculum content, and the methods and strategies my future pupils would be expected to use.
  5. An overview of educational research, and how both this and schools in general have developed in recent times.
  6. Advice on how to plan lessons, and medNium and long-term plans.
  7. Advice on how to mark and assess students’ work.
  8. Training on working with EAL and SEN students
  9. Advice on how to work with parents

What I got was far from what I was (at the very least) expecting:

  1. There was NO training on phonics or grammar. The reading and writing training I received had the following aims – 1. Make it relevant 2. Make it cross-curricular.
  2. Classroom management strategies were very thin on the ground. Where it was provided, Positive Behavioural Reinforcement was the way to go, sanctions were frowned upon, and the “natural” innocence of the child reigned supreme. Oh yes, and there was Circle Time. Plenty of Circle Time.
  3. We seemed to spend more time hearing the Lecturers/Professors views on the National Curriculum, than we did on familiarizing ourselves with its content and what the pupils were expected to learn. The only exception was in Science. The lady who trained us in Science Teaching was still working in the classroom on a part-time basis. Theory never came into it.
  4. ALL Maths “training” was centred around the use of manipulatives and making Maths “real”. There was no discussion about developing number sense or fluency, and arithmetic barely got a look in. Problem solving was popular, but the essential prerequisites for producing efficient problem solvers, barely got a look in.
  5. Research is an easy one for me to recall. Dewey. Piaget. Vygotsky. If the word triopoly does indeed exist, this is as good an example of one as I can find. (I’ve just discovered it does exist, and it’s also a board game…apparently). We were presented with this as the Rules of Teaching and Learning”, and yet we were never trained in the rules of grammar and phonics!!
  6. This is the exception to the rule. We did lots of work on planning! I spent many hours cross-curricular mind- mappish plans with tenuous links galore, only to find myself using the National Literacy and Numeracy Planners and QCA Schemes of Work, a couple of years later!! Other than for an OFSTED inspection or a classroom observation, I have never since written an individual lesson plan, and if I never had to again, I don’t think I’d be any worse off. Nevertheless, I do concede that these are extremely important and helpful during teacher training and your NQT year.
  7. When it came to marking and assessing students work, all I came away with was a list of things that I wasn’t to do: a) Don’t write negative things b) Don’t use red pen (it’s not an urban myth) c) Don’t give a grade d) Don’t correct all mistakes. e) Don’t give weekly spelling and mental maths tests. f) Keep running records g) Formative Assessment Good – Summative Assessment Bad.
  8. When it comes to EAL and SEN, I must have been absent that day. I have no recall of being trained for this. I assume the Army trains soldiers in how to use a gun? And yet I wasn’t trained for situations that I would find myself encountering on a daily basis for the rest of my teaching career!
  9. To prepare us for working with parents we did Role Play. I can think of no better way to illustrate this than by referring to this YouTube clip… (go to about 20 minutes in for the role play)

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. I spent at least half the year in class. I got the Year 6 class of an over-worked, over stressed Deputy Head, in Edmonton, North London. It was a baptism of fire on which I thrived. As is often the way, I then did a second teaching practice at a “contrasting school”. This time I found myself with a Year 3/4 class in a Grant Maintained School (remember them?) in Hertfordshire, that counted Posh Spice amongst its alumni.

And so, my PGCE year came to an end, and I was “ready” to go out there and do the job for real! I appreciate this is only one person’s experience of one institution. Maybe it’s isolated, but I’m confident it isn’t. Fortunately the National Literacy and Numeracy strategies came along soon after. I say fortunately, despite the criticisms we hear of them (some of which I share), because I was reliant on them for much of my training in my first years of teaching, and they did at least cover grammar and, to some extent, arithmetic! I was also fortunate enough to attend a training day on Behaviour Management, with Bill Rogers, during my first year of teaching. What I learnt that day still serves me well to this day.

I hope you now understand why I’m so grateful to my former Primary Headteacher, who allowed me to work (largely for free!!) in his school, and why, when it comes to Education, being an autodidact is a MUST!

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