Being a teacher was a job I dreamt about since I was a young child. I always loved the responsibility of helping others, going home and feeling like I made a difference in whatever it was I did.
Ask the majority of teachers why they do what they do, and the answers are likely to be very similar. The ‘light bulb moments’ they’ll cite are usually enough to counteract some of the other, more strenuous areas of the job. The problem is, not everyone feels that way.
Not everyone inherently wants to teach because they’re incredibly passionate about changing lives – and there’s absolutely no problem with that. The issue is that our profession too often doesn’t account for these people.
Too often, it relies on the passion, drive and commitment of that small constituency within society who have a burning passion to teach and would never want to do anything else. We don’t do enough to ensure that those who are maybe considering teaching – people who could impact on groups of children for years to come – can be persuaded it’s worth the leap of faith. That’s where the world of initial teacher training comes in.
Word of mouth
Ask any ITT provider in the country how recruitment is looking, and they’ll likely paint you a fairly grim picture of falling applicant numbers and an ongoing struggle to get people through the door. Yes, much of that is outside of our control, and there’s only so much that one provider or alliance can do. We all know that throwing money at an advert on a bus or an impressive billboard in your local town isn’t going to make much of a difference to your recruitment drive.
So if advertising can’t be relied on to work, then what else can we do to ensure we’re grabbing people’s attention? This was the question we asked ourselves and the answer was simple: people talk. Word of mouth can make or break any business, but in one where someone pays £9,000 to be a part of it, it’s even more important.
Every element of what we do needs to be high impact and meaningful. If something doesn’t meet either of those requirements, does it really need to be part of the programme? Weekly meetings? High impact and meaningful. They stay. Three ring binders of individual lesson plans, with barely any links or consistency between them? Laborious and little impact. That goes.
Being empowered to make decisions you know will work for your trainees, and having the freedom to strip things back to the basics – those are the two things that have had the biggest impact on both our recruitment, and on the wellbeing of our trainees.
Less is more
Our fear was that we’d be watering down the quality of our ITT by doing less. Would the fact that we don’t make every trainee formally write their reflections out on a form each week mean that they’d be less reflective? Would we struggle to prove that our trainees were making progress?
Well, we’re now fast approaching the end of our first year using this new system, and barring any last-minute blips, our trainees are performing just as well, if not better than in previous years. We have a 100% completion rate for the first time, and our trainees’ termly feedback suggests that their wellbeing has improved significantly.
We’re obviously thrilled that the changes we’ve made are having a positive impact, but it’s still just one year. We need to keep moving and growing to ensure we can continue to meet our trainees’ needs.
Bravery and conviction
Our default position is now this: how do we bend and shift to ensure our trainees needs are met, rather than sticking stubbornly to a ‘this is how it is’ attitude? There will be some things that work and some that don’t. Through working collaboratively with other providers, and the wonderful work of NASBTT, we now feel genuinely empowered to make the decisions we know will benefit our context.
Having the bravery and conviction to focus on the areas of your provision that really matter, and more importantly, remove the things that don’t, can have a hugely positive impact on your provision and ensure that trainees complete their NQT year feeling excited, rather than exhausted.
James Coleman is Director of Initial Teacher Training at Anton Andover Alliance Teacher Training, which is a member of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers