Over the past few weeks there have been a number of articles in both learned journals and more popular publications, such as The Economist, about the challenge of teaching the teachers. Now, we are told to forget small classes, lavish resources (iPads for all) and perhaps even new school buildings – designed to win awards if not make it easy to teach and learn. Amazingly, the secret to outstanding grades and thriving students is............ teachers!
It seems that we have been slaves to the assumption that good teachers are born, not made. In the recent past, government policies, of all stripes, have sought to raise teaching standards by attracting high-flying graduates to join the profession and by encouraging poor teachers to leave. Teach First, modelled on Teach for America, has certainly done that whilst some others will tell you that if only teachers were set free from a centralised, top down ‘straightjacket’, learning excellence would surely follow.
But there is a problem. It seems clear that, even though teaching is now an all-graduate profession, what teachers fail to learn in universities and teacher-training colleges is rarely picked up on the job. Research shows that they become better teachers in their first few years as they learn how to deal with real pupils in real classrooms, but after that, it seems that improvements tail off. This may well be because schools forget that their most important pupils are the teachers themselves.
Fortunately there is a new breed of teacher-trainers being developed around the world, founding a rigorous science of pedagogy – quite simply, the science and art of how to teach. The aim is to make ordinary teachers great, just as good sports coaches help athletes of all abilities improve their personal best. When you look at the stellar results achieved in Finland, Singapore and Shanghai, you can see that giving teachers inflated salaries may not be the answer. Making teaching an elite profession, offering the chance for peer mentoring and feedback, valuing non-contact time, all these things enhance the status – and by extension the quality and results – of teaching. With a crisis looming in the quantum of teachers being produced throughout England, and especially in the Jewish school sector with the rapid growth in the Jewish school sector, what is our community doing about it?
Well, to start with, we are lucky to have a teacher training facility, the JTTP (Jewish Teacher Training Partnership) based at LSJS in Hendon, which is rated Outstanding by Ofsted. As we all know, Ofsted do not hand out these accolades lightly, so we should celebrate the fact that we have – in our midst – one the best teacher training programmes in the country.
So what, exactly does it offer and, more importantly, how does it embrace this new thinking?
Jonathan Bach, the Director of JTTP Programmes and Head of Teaching at LSJS, tells me that the JTTP already offers several different routes into acquiring QTS – Qualified Teacher Status, still the recognised passport to a career in teaching. For those interested in primary schools the SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher training) programme demands that students have a 7-8 week classroom practice in both terms 1 and 2 in Jewish schools. They then have a 2 week multicultural practice in a non Jewish state school in the spring term and a final teaching practice in a Jewish school for almost the whole summer term. This adds up to almost 2/3 of the entire training year in the classroom.
But there are other, equally rigorous – and even more classroom based - models on offer. For example, School Direct ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. The students teach full time from the start of the September term in school with support and coaching from the school’s senior staff, all of whom have received their own specialised training. The students also attend training, led by Wolfson Hillel Primary School, every week and they, too, must have a 2 week multicultural practice in a non Jewish state school.
The JTTP also offers, uniquely, a School Direct Secondary programme in Jewish Studies or Hebrew.
Following the primary pattern, trainees teach full time from the start of the September term in school with support from the school, whilst they attend training led by JTTP every week, as well as having a 2 week multicultural practice in a non Jewish state school.
So what does this tell us about the way the next generation of teachers are being taught? Well, I think that we, as a community, can be proud that the training and coaching being offered is just about the best on offer. We all know that, in the UK, the demand for places on teacher training courses rises and falls with the health of the general economy. Quite what the future holds is anyone’s guess, but at least we can be sure that our trainee teachers, striving to match the new ‘coaching rules OK’ paradigm are being offered the best possible start on their long – and vital – journeys.
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