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‘Trainee Teachers’ – When do we stop being one?

I have spent a lot of time recently researching and planning CPD for the coming academic year; as such I have reflected a great deal on the formative moments there have been in my teaching career.

One thing I often reflect on is my PGCE and my time as a ‘trainee teacher’; the more I reflect on it, the more I realise it blurs into my NQT year. When I begin to reflect on my NQT year, the more I realise it bleeds into my second year when I got my tutor group and full teaching timetable.

The point I’m making is probably quite transparent: I can’t think of a defining moment when I stopped ‘training’. Before I became a teacher I said that my reasoning behind wanting to pursue a teaching career was because I ‘never wanted to stop learning’. At the time I meant about literature and English. However, it has come to pass that the thing I never stop learning more about is the art and science of teaching.

There was a brief time when I thought I had this job pinned down and I knew exactly what I was doing and why. In retrospect that was probably when I was least effective both in and out the classroom. As Socrates said:

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing”
Since then I have regularly taken stock of my position and attitude; Itry to evaluate and adapt my methods on a continuing basis.
To return to where I began, through trying to create an effective schedule and pattern of CPD next year, I realised that we need to help everyone return their mindset to when they were trainees. We need teachers to be open and receptive to new ideas and innovations and have a desire to experiment with these in the classroom. However, we need to harness their experience and ability to critique what and what isn’t worthwhile. This trade-off is difficult to balance, and I am not sure we will be entirely successful in doing so. But through striving to achieve this it should have a positive impact on a greater percentage of teaching staff than in previous years.
Something which all new teachers relish and seem to respond well to is the idea of choice. If you give PGCE students and trainees a choice of workshop to attend, they will usually participate fully and be receptive to its content, in order to justify their choice of workshop. This is why teach-meets can be so successful, because you share a room with like-minded people who chose to spend their time the same way you did.
Choice is therefore something which I would aspire to build into next year’s CPD schedule – each CPD event should allow staff to pursue something different, worthwhile and challenging.
When teachers choose a workshop session, they are saying “this is something I can be better at, show me how and guide me” – at this moment they are more like trainees than ever, and are hopefully just as receptive.
But how can we harness the experience and wisdom that comes with years of teaching? The obvious answer is to know your staff well and to decide who is an expert at what. If you have a teacher who would never attend a workshop on differentiation because she believes that she already knows all there is to know about the topic, (and you also agree that this confidence is well-founded), then why not get her to actually run the differentiation workshop?
Yes, she would be able to share her good practice with the rest of her colleagues, but moreover, she might also learn something new. How often have a class of students you teach, who have never experienced a topic before, suggested ideas or responses you’ve never considered before? From my experience, teachers are very similar…
I also believe that trainee teachers are the most reflective practitioners in the business; this is something which we sometimes lose and forget to maintain. When you have to constantly complete lesson evaluations and weekly journals, you soon get very good at knowing your strengths and limitations. This is why I am aiming to create opportunities next year for our staff to be more reflective and I am developing a CPD journal for them to complete with this in mind.
So, there it is. When do we stop being ‘trainee teachers’? I would argue never.
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Author:

I am a teacher of English at a rural secondary school in the West of England; in my third year of teaching I became an NQT Induction coordinator and last year I was placed in charge of coordinating literacy across the school. I am now approaching my 6th year as a teacher and I feel as though I am still only just scraping the surface of what this job entails. Every year there is a new challenge to overcome and as any teacher will attest, sometimes we choose the challenges, other times they are thrust upon us. Sometimes the challenges seem worthwhile and alas sometimes they feel less so. I have made this blog to share some of the challenges that are beginning to arise as we strive to improve and to also share some of the ways in which we've done this - hopefully some may find it useful, hopefully I will too! Mr P.

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