Does teacher training make you a bad teacher?

What makes an excellent teacher? Can it be taught? Clare Wagner disagrees with claims teacher training is unnecessary
7th November 2020, 12:00pm
Clare Wagner

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Does teacher training make you a bad teacher?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/does-teacher-training-make-you-bad-teacher
Teacher Training: All Eyes Must Be On Trainees

The subject of initial teacher training has been a recent topic of debate on social media.

Some people claim that it is all a waste of time: Katharine Birbalsingh, the head of Michaela Community School in north-west London, said that "teacher training will ensure you are a bad teacher." Others, meanwhile, defend it to the hilt. 

I can understand why there is conflict. In many ways, it boils down to disagreements in approaches to pedagogy. But such uncompromising views always give me cause for concern. Dogma stifles debate and prevents us from learning from each other. 

What works at one school may work in many others, with perhaps some tweak or adjustment. Some approaches and strategies may work in one school, but not in another. 

Initial teacher training: Some people are born to teach

During my career, I have worked with many teachers who are still training, as part of their ITT, either through a PGCE programme or through a course such as school-centred initial teacher training. Trainees have to complete a year via these institutions, and then complete an NQT year in school

There are, of course, other options, such as the two-year Teach First programme, and the programme for career changers, Now Teach

What I have seen is that some teachers are born to teach. They are natural in the classroom, and use the techniques they learn as part of their teacher training to hone their practice. I have also seen some who are not immediately fantastic in the classroom, but, through hard work, great in-school mentoring and CPD, become competent - and sometimes excellent teachers, too.

The quality and approach of ITT providers across the country is definitely variable. But the advantage of training through one of these are manifold.

What is a good teacher?

Firstly, ITT teaches you the bread and butter of teaching, such as planning, classroom management and assessment for learning. 

A good teacher is a confident teacher, and trainees need to build up their confidence in the classroom, work with and observe more experienced teachers, and take the time to learn just what it takes to be 100 per cent responsible for the learning of young people.

After that, teachers can choose what kind of school they want to teach in, and can adjust to, or be retrained in, the institution in which they choose to work. 

Whichever route trainee teachers take, they have to show that they have learned how to teach, thus meeting the standards stipulated by the government.

Fire in the belly

But, for me, a brilliant teacher also has qualities that go beyond this. Most importantly, they love their subject and share that love with their pupils. Nothing beats watching a lesson taught by someone who has passion and enthusiasm for their subject. 

An excellent teacher also knows how to hold the room, which means that nothing happens unless the teacher allows it to happen. It also means that the delivery of the lesson is inspiring and engaging. 

For me, a top teacher has a fire in their belly for the success of every single student in their class. They know what each one needs to do to make progress and succeed. 

Finally, every lesson and series of lessons taught by an excellent teacher is always extremely well-planned and has excellent pace; there is never dead time or time-filling. 

Most of the above can be taught as part of initial teacher training and high-quality ongoing CPD. If a teacher does not love their subject, in my view, they are in the wrong job. 

More than one way of being an excellent teacher

I have encountered great teachers in many of the schools I have worked in, which include grammar schools, comprehensives and top independent schools. I have observed lessons in many schools, including Eton College and Oasis Academy South Bank. I am now the headteacher of a comprehensive free school in inner London, and I can say categorically that I have seen amazing teachers using many different approaches and still being excellent teachers. Most of those whom I have observed have gone through some kind of ITT. All of them displayed the characteristics I have outlined above. 

I would say that I am a proponent of traditional, teacher-led teaching, with the teacher as a source of knowledge and expertise. I do not believe that children learn as much through discovery, project-based learning. I also believe that children can only learn effectively when their classrooms and schools are safe and calm. But there are many ways of delivering that kind of teaching.

To summarise, there are passionate, motivated, hard-working teachers all over the country, doing great things for their pupils every day. Many of them learned to be great teachers as part of their initial teacher training, at their placement schools and in the early years of being qualified. 

I have been teaching for over 25 years, and I still remember so much of what my mentor taught me when I was training. When I observe the teachers in my school, I continue to learn from them.

There is more than one way of being an excellent teacher. Let's all work together to ensure that every child gets the high-quality schooling that they deserve. 

Clare Wagner is the headteacher of the West London Free School

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