I remember my training year vividly. I did the Graduate Teacher Programme, a postgraduate route into teaching which, while harder to get onto and fewer places available, gives you a better training wage and you are contracted to a school for the year. I was fortunate enough to train at one of only two truly ‘outstanding’ schools I have seen. This was a blessing in many ways: firstly, I was assigned an inspirational mentor who not only set a fantastic example, but also made it clear that I was not there to simply become a replica of her, but that I would need to develop my own individual style and strategies to stay true to myself; secondly, it meant I was spared the lectures from the educationists at our training centre. Good grief, these people, with one exception, were from another age and were so utterly uninspiring it was hard to imagine them in front of a class at all, they were so lacking in charisma and any enthusiasm for the job.
We have a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching. One lady on my course was used as a full-time teacher in her school from day one, until she crumbled. She could have made an excellent teacher, but we’ll never know, as her school used her as cheap maternity cover without any support. Would you put someone on a building site, a deli counter or architect’s drawing board without supervision? A friend of mine was racially abused at her school, yet neither the school nor the training centre did anything. What a caring profession we have.
These were highly intelligent people with real degrees in proper subjects. They were great with the kids, but the system failed them. Thousands more trainees are wholly unfit for the job. I have witnessed students 3 years into a course who cannot relate to children and have such abysmal spelling, reading and maths skills and such an absence of general knowledge that the kids regularly put them to shame…or, worse still, the children were so confused at having their right answers being classed as wrong by these trainees that their own morale started to crumble.
These trainees have a tutor whose job it is to pass them, regardless of whether a professional of a decade’s experience has pointed out this was not ethically acceptable and refused to sign them off. Fortunately for the student, my boss at the time had no principles and signed off instead of me for a quiet life – a mockery of education.
Many leave before they even qualify, and many don’t last 5 years in the job now. Those hardy souls that endure for longer are a shrinking number as teachers leave in droves. Some teachers leave because the system is such that they lack the energy and time to teach and care for the children to the standards we believe they deserve. Financially, if you’re going to work a 60-70-hour week, you may as well get more than minimum wage for the hours you put in.
The government’s latest ads for teachers are even more bitterly amusing than the ones when I was training. I, like thousands of others, joined to help the kids and we stay to help the kids. Last Monday morning, I was exhausted on arrival, when one of the kids brought me a thankyou booklet they’d made and got their friends to sign it. Having spent most of my waking hours on paperwork rather than enjoying the job, it was a great lift to start my week and a timely reminder that it’s people, not paper, that matters. Management take note.