Teacher Training

I’ve been a teacher for over 13 years, so my recollections of my own experiences in teacher training college in Scotland are a bit hazy and vague.

I remember;
working in groups with a tutor, breaking down the curriculum into manageable bits. 
working on lesson plans, based on a template, trying to envisage instigating the plan in front of a class.
writing essays on various esoteric areas of education (“The European Component of Scottish Education” stands out for some reason).
getting the worst marks I ever received (D-) because my essay just gave facts, not opinions.
accumulating a giant binder, packed with notes and lecture handouts, that I studied assiduously until after the final exam, when it was unceremoniously dumped in a bin.

Everything seems vague now. Until the first school experience. We had 4 placements in the Scottish system;
a quick 1 week familiarization, to let you see what a school looks like from the inside, and to bring your memories of being a pupil many years ago (in my case) up to date with modern reality.
an initial 6 week placement
a second 6 week placement
a final 8 week placement

each of the 3 main placements was assessed, and the student teacher had to show progression through each stage, and we had to be able to reach a minimum level of “professional competence” by the end of the final practice.
These placements do stand out in my memories, because they were real. Some of the coursework was good, especially the planning and curriculum stuff, but most of the rest was just a waste of time. We really learned to be teachers by watching experienced teachers teach, by observing the modern generation of students, by starting to take lessons in front of a class.

I do remember the sheer terror before I took my first class on my own. What if the little sods revolted? Could I exert control over 36 adolescents and get them interested in the intricacies of Spreadsheets and Formulae?

I can still vividly remember that class in a city centre school in Fife.
I can still see their faces, although their names have faded.
I can still remember the student in a three piece suit sitting with an adult in the front row (It turns out the student in the suit had a severe case of Asbergers, and he now had a full time “minder” because he had expressed his displeasure with a previous teacher by throwing an Apple Macintosh computer and keyboard out a convenient (closed) window.
I can still remember introducing myself to the class. The usual stuff, married, 2 kids, life experience, qualifications etc. Just as I had finished telling them about my qualifications, BSc(Honours) in Microbiology, MSc in Applied Computing, I was challenged by one of the unwashed.
He actually put up his hand first, and when I said “Yes Thomas?” (I had a seating plan given to me by their usual teacher, who was hovering nervously in the background) he asked a critical question.
“Dis that mean you think you’re smarter than us?”
I was aware their usual teacher (and also the Head of Department) had suddenly frozen, and was giving me his full attention. My answer to this challenge was critical. It would set the class attitude for the rest of my school practicum. It could make the difference between passing and failing the entire teaching training course.
Fortunately I didn’t try to prevaricate. Kids are very quick in sensing “bullshit”, honesty is almost always the best policy.

“No Thomas,” I replied,”It just means that I’ve tried as hard as I can to learn as much as possible, so I can be the best teacher for you.”
For a couple of seconds there was absolute silence; then Thomas gave a wee nod of his head and grunted “Aye”, and the class relaxed. I was in (for the moment anyway, there would be plenty of other challenges in the future ), the pack leader had accepted me as “OK”, and the lesson progressed.

This whole post was triggered by a student teacher last week.
We were really short of relievers, and when I was approached by one of our Deputy Principals to quickly get cover for her next class, there was no-one available except me. She is definitely one of the “good guys” and I knew she had had an unexpected meeting assigned to her at the last minute, so I didn’t mind. She said that a student teacher would actually be taking the class, and i was there just to supervise as the law requires.
It was a small Year 10 Science class, and I knew quite a few of the students by sight and by teaching some of them.
I checked tha the student teacher (ST) was in the class (he wasn’t) so I took the roll. The ST arrived and I stepped back to let him teach his class.
What followed could have been made into an instruction film in “how not to teach”.
The lesson was on calculation of power, work and cost. Pretty basic stuff that I remembered from my own distant school days.
But.
He didn’t try to organise the class
He didn’t start fo about 10 minutes while he got ready
He ignored the increasingly loud chatter of the kids.
He ignored kids moving into other pupil groupings

When he started, I knew it was not going to be good. He asked for quiet, and as the sound started to diminish he started the lesson. He had to raise his voice over the background chatter, as he had not waited for complete quiet. It was obvious that the ST really cared for the kids. i know this because he told the kids this fact every 5 minutes. “Why don’t you be quiet?” he pleaded, “I really want you to learn this”, said in a sort of squeaky I want you all to give me a hug voice.
The next 40 minutes were not fun. I did what i could, but if I stepped in completely, the ST would lose what little authority he had over the class.

We had a chat after the class had left and it was clear the ST wanted to succeed, and he knew that the lesson had not gone well. We discussed various strategies that he could use, seating plans amongst them, then I left to get back to my own classes.

I saw the ST the next day and he approached me. He was worried what would happen if he tried to impose a seating plan on that class. He foresaw a mutiny, and he was probably correct. We discussed the various strategies he could use to make sure he didn’t lose complete control and as I went of to my other duties, he finished with “Thanks, I’ll use those, thanks again for your help”
He was really grateful that some-one was trying to help to become a good teacher.

ST will not succeed. He will not succeed because he want the pupils to like him, and he wants to be friends with the pupils. Teachers can be friendly. They can make good relationships with their students. But friends? NO
I hope that ST learns this, as he’s a really nice guy, but I don’t think so. He has a “weak” core and I suspect that if he passes his next observed assessment (unlikely from my observation) and actually progresses into teaching full-time, he will either have a nervous breakdown or end up turning into a vicious sadistic bastard who takes out his frustration by bullying the weaker elements in his classes.
Just like the rest of us.

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About Kiwidoug

Teacher, father, computer geek, science fiction fan, DIY aficionado, older..older..older.. every day
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One Response to Teacher Training

  1. Basket Maker says:

    I know who you are talking about … You are right in your observations, I agree. Nice guys won’t make it in this league.

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