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Do we ask too much of trainee teachers?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

Anybody who has gone through the experience (or ordeal!) of trainee teacher will agree that it is one of the most stressful – yet strangely exhilarating – journeys that you will ever embark on during your lifetime. For most that train to teach it is a veritable rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, successes and failures.

Many will recall those late nights, with hours spent meticulously crafting lesson plans – plans that tended to be shelved 5 minutes into a lesson when it became apparent that Year 9 weren’t going to play ball! Whatever route of teacher training is taken, nobody should underestimate the challenge ahead.

Of course, most emerge safely through to the other side – all the stronger for it – mainly because of the resilience, inner-strength and character that you undoubtedly have to display in abundance to be successful. The extent to which it prepares you to become an outstanding teacher is, perhaps, less clear. The challenges of teacher training Yes, there are many challenges in teacher training.

Teaching is not something that can be learned from a text book, or from sitting through hours of PGCE lectures and meetings.

It’s something that needs to be done ‘on the job’.

To a certain extent, you do need to be thrown in at the deep end.

No amount of observation (even of outstanding practitioners) really prepares you for the experience of being in front of a class on your own.

It’s sink or swim – maybe - but surely we need to be throwing our trainee teachers into the deep pool of teaching with armbands on rather than with lead weights around their necks? There’s definitely an argument to say that we ask too much of our trainee teachers.

You could even ask the question: Is it too much to expect trainees to plan lessons from scratch? The skill of lesson planning There is a skill to lesson planning and it’s something of an art too.

It can be learned – up to a point – in that you can be taught to include those aspects that tend to make a lesson successful, such as starters, plenaries, or learning outcomes and objectives.

Having said that, a good lesson is very much the sum of all parts.

What’s more, no lesson plan can be outstanding on paper alone.

It is the delivery and execution of a plan that leads to an excellent lesson. Indeed, the real art of teaching and the sign that you have ‘cracked’ this thing called teaching is when an individual intuitively knows when to change, tweak, or shelve part of a plan during a lesson.

Do trainee teachers need more support in lesson planning? A potentially massive number of judgements are needed to craft a good lesson.

A few weeks of university lectures or lesson observation in school will never adequately prepare a trainee to become adept at making such skilful judgements on Day One in the classroom. To use an analogy, compare the process of learning to teach to that of learning to drive.

Asking a trainee teacher to plan and teach a lesson from scratch is actually akin to a driving instructor letting a learner driver negotiate a busy one-way or ring-road system on only their second or third time behind the wheel – while they make notes on all the mistakes that the learner makes. Trainee teachers often cling to their plans, not only when things go awry in the classroom but even when things are descending into chaos.

The thing is that it is very difficult for trainees to deviate from a plan when they have no real experience to draw upon.

Learning the hard way is all very well, but would it be better to let trainee teachers be guided by experienced teachers for longer, to allow them to develop their skill, confidence and experience level a little more?


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5- Why the UK faces increasing teacher shortage