One of the most pleasing parts of my current job is seeing the standard of new teachers coming through. More so than ever, in English anyway, I see more committed, enthusiastic student teachers who see the job as a lifelong challenge. I hear them more willing to discuss the theory of teaching as well as the practice. Being involved in the interview process for Initial Teacher Training courses over the last couple of years has convinced me that, for the first time in years, we are getting it right it terms of accepting future teachers into the profession.
Part of that stems from the memories of my own first years in the classroom. I was in my thirties when I started teaching but was enthusiastic, committed and desperate to make an impression in a career of which I’d always been slightly terrified. I had those idealistic dreams when every pupils in my classes would love everything I did, for how could they not? When you are a battle-weary and experienced classroom teacher I think it is easy to forget that initial feeling that everything is possible and it is all still stretching out before you. Perhaps, as we start a new term, we should try those shoes on again.
What never leaves me though is that child-like excitement when I am about to start a new text. Even one I’ve taught loads of times before. Approaching the text in English class is possibly the most vital part of our planning. What do we want them to learn from this text? Which sections do I need to spend more time on? How much background knowledge will I need to provide? What do the they already know? In an ideal world we could do it all but we can’t. With experience comes the knowledge of planning for time and for content.
Looking back at the first time I taught ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ – which I am about to start again – I wish I’d had an experienced teacher to plan with. It is such a wonderful story that, of course, the pupils will love it too. They didn’t, of course. The text is too context-specific and, dare I say it, too wordy in places to merely enjoy it on its own merits. An experienced teacher could have told me to spend time discussing slavery and the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement, even before starting to read the novel. I learned over time that planning is so much more effective when done with someone else.
The great improvements I’ve seen in the ‘readiness’ of student teachers suggests that we can learn loads from them too. Their enthusiastic naiveté is, at times, infectious and new and original ideas are always welcome. However, we should never forget that experience is all. Looking through some old resources – some of which I created over ten years ago – I was both amazed and embarrassed. There is some good stuff in there. Perhaps this term I will try and remember what it was like to be a new teacher. But, added to that, a strong measure of reality. The future teachers in Scotland look good to me. Let’s make sure we help them along the way.