By Amanda Timberg
Executive Director – Programme
Episode one of Tough Young Teachers saw Claudenia, Charles, Nick, Meryl and Oliver start teaching in the classroom fresh from the beginning of their PGCE training with Teach First, the six-week Summer Institute.
These intensive six weeks, which we deliver in partnership with universities, are the starting point of a thirteen month PGCE. And, while we very much see those entire thirteen months as critical training, there is no doubt that the initial six weeks must give participants the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to lead their classes from day one.
Because, unlike a traditional PGCE, Teach First trainees do not have a year of training and work shadowing before they enter the classroom – they start work as teachers from the outset. Some people find this difficult to contemplate, and that’s understandable. I can appreciate why it might make people nervous, and that’s why it’s important to explain a little bit more about how we prepare participants over that six week period (and beyond).
Laying the groundwork
During Summer Institute our trainees focus on how to become effective leaders in the classroom, which we believe is rooted in a strong vision for success and also high expectations for what their pupils can achieve. Having the right classroom environment is critical to achieving this, so we ensure that trainees also receive the training and support they need in behaviour management and maintaining positive and productive pupil relationships.
Before and during Summer Institute trainees have the opportunity to spend several weeks in school shadowing pupils, observing the methods of experienced teachers and planning, teaching and assessing pupils. They build on this by taking part in workshops throughout the six weeks from current teachers on all aspects of learning and teaching, including the use of established systems in school and the importance of the link to parents and carers.
And above all, their training is focused on the unique context in which we work – schools that face the challenges associated with economic deprivation. The training is globally informed and context-specific, and continuously improved based on feedback from the teachers themselves, and our school and university partners.
Ongoing training and support
Once the six weeks are over, our trainees begin teaching and spend the next eleven months learning intensively on the job, supported by school mentors and university tutors.
These roles differ but work together to ensure that trainees receive the support they need to become effective teachers and adds up, along with days out for more targeted training, to 72 days dedicated to their development throughout the year. This is 20% more than the 60 days of training required for a standard PGCE.
Tutors will visit the trainees approximately every 2-3 weeks to observe how they are developing and provide vast experience and expertise in teaching methods, subject knowledge and leadership. School mentors are on the ground daily and have an hour a week timetabled in for support, sharing their unparalleled knowledge about the specific community and the young people our trainees are working with.
As with other PGCE routes participants are required to submit academic coursework, and we ask that they keep a weekly journal which helps them to reflect on their teaching practice to support continuous improvement. They also have access to optional additional support in the form of conferences and evening workshops, and access to an online community to ask for help or to discuss issues.
Developing leadership skills
We believe that strong leadership is essential to supporting young people to develop a brighter future, so beyond their PGCE training our teachers maximise opportunities to lead both inside and outside the classroom. We support them to do this by providing ongoing leadership development through workshops, seminars, speakers and partnerships with both schools and business so that we continue to work together to ensure that every young person can succeed in life, regardless of their background.
Being effective teachers and leaders is an on-going process and they enter classrooms with continued training needs. But, through the collaborative effort of schools, universities, Teach First and the teachers themselves, they increasingly become effective – understanding and adapting to the specific challenges in their classrooms.
And, like all new teachers they will make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and become better teachers as a result. We can’t ask for more than that.