Monday, 22 November 2010
The Reality of Teach First
I have just been in a lecture in which a comment from the floor led to an interaction with the lecturer about the differences between a PGCE and Teach First. The student's suggestion, which was agreed with by the lecturer, was that a PGCE showed a greater devotion to 'being a teacher' and that Teach First is used as a gateway to a better-paid job in the city.
There was a general consensus around this point, which is borne most likely out of 1) the majority of students in the lecture being members of the established Education Faculty, 2) a considerable number of the students in the lecture having applied for PGCE. Feeling the pressure of looking up and seeing people looking towards me, as the tokenistic Teach Firster. The lecturer repeated the point about it being a stepping stone to high salaries in the city and I joked with those beside me that that was my reason - but it quite obviously isn't.
First criticism, the idea of a PGCE showing a better devotion to being a teacher. What does this actually mean? I might go along with that to the extent that 'being a teacher' relates to a particular sort of teacher role, sacrosanct in the collective consciece, of the teacher as a straight-and-narrow, this is my life, I'm in it for the kids attitude. Maybe so. Long term devotion to being a teacher does not imply an ability to teach. Not to tar all with the same brush at all, but drawing from my own experiences, the best teachers I had were those who didn't see teaching as a devotion to their role as a teacher; the better teachers were in fact those who had wide knowledge base, were engaged and interested in what was going on in the world outside the school and were actually quite brutally cynical about being teachers. Those teachers who seemed to enter out of devotion stultified their own creativity as their focus was on themselves - on their role as teacher and their role as teacher-with-pupils - rather than on the furtherance of the genuine knowledge and intellect and innovation of the pupils. Some of the teachers most devoted to the role make the best teachers, but this devotion is not in itself a merit - the merit of a teacher should be in their capacity to teach and although their enjoyment in the job is quite obviously beneficial for all, it is not, as an isolating thing, going to bring any benefit whatsoever to the education of the children.
Second, the idea that it is the permanence of one's role as a teacher that qualifies one's capacity to teach is flawed. The criticism of Teach First as a gateway to the city reflects the mirror image of the PGCE as a door which slams behind you as you enter. Experienced teachers certainly amass heaps of practicable knowledge from their time within the school, but again, the overarching notion of 'experience = ability to teach' is absolutely flawed. An independent study of the effectiveness of Teach First, published only last week by a team from the University of Manchester, yielded this, among its key findings.
Observations that the teaching practices of Teach First teachers in their first year are good to excellent – in international comparisons they were generally on a par with or ahead of more experienced teachers.
Teachers who are in the school for at least two years (and it is useful to remember that the majority stay on beyond those two years) are able to make a huge impact, to the benefit of their pupils - 'partnering with Teach First explains between 20% and 40% of the between-school variance in pupil performance at GCSE. This difference – the researchers estimate – equates to approximately a third of a GCSE per pupil per subject'. Simply put, the fact that a teacher may or may not intend to continue in teaching into their foreseeable future has no impact on their skill and competence as a teacher.
And a final appraisal of Teach First against the fallacies which support the PGCE relates to what often appears as the most contentious idea: that of the teachers specifically moving on to high paid work in the elite corporations of the city. Undoubtedly, a considerable number of teachers in Teach First move on into better paid, high-status roles in other spheres of professional life - this is not necessarily a bad thing. It could only be seen as a negative in itself if one holds onto the view of teaching as some individual act of passion and this, although most often well-intentioned, does not always benefit the children one teaches. The teacher is not beholden to the future generations of children he or she may or may not teach - their loyalty and their mission is to inspire, educate, empower and facilitate the pupils currently under their watch. The fact that you want to be a teacher after graduation does not automatically make your essays inferior to those of a peer who wishes to work in academia.
The effectiveness of a teacher should be judged upon the impact their teaching has on the pupils in their charge - this impact could be academic, but could also be pastoral, aspirational, social and mental. The reason they go into it and their future plans may well affect the impact they have on their pupils, but these impacts will be as varied as the individual teachers themselves.
It is all very well and good to want to enter education out of a devotion to being a teacher but that is not why I want to do it - I want to go into teaching because I want to teach and I would like my pupils to learn: they sound similar but are very different.
Posted by Joffer at 08:02