Ponderings after half a term of working with trainee teachers

This year I have the privilege of overseeing our trainee teachers who are on different training routes and teaching in our school and, reflecting on this half term, it has emphasised where, for me, initial teacher training seems to have lost its way in a tick list of things to cross off with evidence. It’s been a really interesting half term getting my head round the intricacies of how the different training routes have broken down the teacher standards with each sub-standard split into 4/5 stages to show progression (and no they haven’t all done it the same way). As someone who is used to using the standards in terms of Appraisal, the nuances as they have tried to break the sub-standards down are tricky for experienced teachers to unpick let alone brand new teachers. Planning, teaching and observing lessons seems more focused on ticking off standards than students’ learning and developing classrooms ok practice.

I’m, therefore, glad I started the year with the mentors by saying all feedback and conversations needed to be about quality teaching and learning and the standards were to be the after-thought this half term. We agreed we would rather our trainees were focused on developing their teaching than worried about which standard they were or were not hitting. It’s so easy to be bogged down with filling in bits of paper. Now that’s not to say the trainees have ignored the paperwork but we’ve been very careful to ensure our conversations have been driven by pedagogy and subject knowledge first.

This half term we have talked to our trainees in terms of 5 crucial areas of classroom practice – subject knowledge, clarity of teacher language, assessment, behaviour for learning and challenge. All chosen because they are the building blocks for all teaching and learning. They can all be found in the standards but are more concrete terms for trainees to grasp and discuss than the wording of the broken down sub-standards. At every stage and in every conversation mentors have had with trainees the emphasis has been on making the implicit (what we just do as experienced teachers without really thinking) explicit to the trainees.

We have discussed many times the importance of being able to answer the following questions (based on Peps Mccrae’s work and blogs by @LeadingLearner) before teaching any lesson:

  • What do the students need to learn (today and overall for this topic)?
  • What will this look like and how will I know they know it?
  • What do I need to check all students already know/can do so they can access this new learning?

We have focused on this as we firmly believe if you can’t answer these questions for a lesson then your lesson will fail to lead to student learning – if you as a teacher don’t know the answers then how will the students know what to learn and progress as they need to? Likewise, we’ve talked a lot about planning ‘teacher talk’/instructions/questioning to work on clarity of teacher language and have encouraged the trainees to go and watch an experienced teacher explain content or concepts or exam technique that they need to teach so they can script their own teaching.

However, I don’t think any of this is radical, new or innovative. To me it just seems common sense, especially the focus on what they are teaching. But I’ve been taken aback when the trainees have come back from university training sessions where they have picked up the perception that lesson planning is about 10 different types of differentiation or having a mix of independent, pair and group work rather than thinking about what students need to learn.

This leads to my final reflection on this half term. With all the paperwork I’ve mentioned above and the messages trainees seem to be getting from university sessions about the need for things like multiple versions of activities, I’m really worried we are already, 8 weeks in, setting these trainees up to burn out. It’s hard enough learning the craft of teaching without all this extra stuff and setting unreasonable expectations over differentiation and lesson resources – that’s not to say differentiation etc isn’t important but I’d have burnt out long ago if I’d differentiated everything as much as has been modelled as good practice to them!

So looking forward to next half term, my mission is to look for more ways the mentors can support the trainees to ensure they are learning to teach their subject in such a way that they might not collapse under the weight of their course paperwork or through planning unrealistically complex lessons

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