Are Covid-era trainee teachers screwed? Far from it

The past two years have been very hard for trainee teachers – but that doesn't mean it's all bad news, says Adam Riches

Adam Riches

NQTs and teacher training: Are Covid-era trainee teachers screwed? Far from it, says Adam Riches

I’ve spent a significant amount of time delivering, planning and generally being around initial teacher training courses. And so I’m able to say with certainty that the past two years have been the hardest by far. 

So much of our focus is on the pupils when it comes to the impact of Covid – and rightly so. But there is also going to be a lasting effect on the trainees and newly qualified classroom teachers.

The past two years have significantly disrupted the training of two cohorts. And, more widely, they have changed the landscape for entry to teaching. 

The impact of Covid on teacher training: What has been lost?

First and foremost, there has been a massive chunk of time missed from normal classroom teaching. As a result, some trainees have had little time at the chalkface. 

Throw in a few bubble closures, and the experience for some has been minimal. The knock-on effect of this is the lack of practical experience of teaching. These include experiences you can’t simulate: the fatigue, the behaviour, the struggle, the successes. 

On top of this, trainees have missed so much face-to-face time with their fellow trainees. It’s been a rollercoaster of maybes – but the majority, if not all, of the training has been online for over a year now. Those rich discussions, the tangents that you often go down during a scenario – all of the little details have been lost online. 

It’s a shame, but we can’t cry over spilt milk. And, in fact, in some ways I don’t think trainees and NQTs need to. 

What’s been gained?

We’ve all had to go back to the drawing board during this pandemic. Teaching assistants, classroom teachers, middle leaders, senior leaders – we have all had to quickly adapt the way we work. 

The difference for the trainees who have just started their careers is that they’re learning this on the first pass. Trainees are being innovative and adapting and are experiencing, first hand, how teaching requires you to be versatile and creative. 

The resilience that the past two years’ cohort of trainees have is incredible. They have had their training well and truly turned upside down, and yet they are thriving

Some of the best lessons I have seen taught online (and I have seen a serious number of online lessons) have been taught by trainees. I watched one of my English SCITT trainees teach a lesson with my jaw on the floor – she was absolutely incredible. 

I have no doubt that she would have been good in the “real” classroom, but the online environment has opened so many doors with regard to the refining of teaching craft. In some ways, this suits those with less experience, as they don’t have to relearn how to teach, because they are still in the process of learning their craft. 

In a lot of schools, ITT and NQT teachers have been at the forefront of online teaching, because they themselves are being taught by their providers how to teach online. Years of classroom experience suddenly count for much less when learning shifts to a different medium. 

Yes, the theoretical basis is the same. But without that intricate knowledge of online learning, the transition is clumsy. Trainee teachers have been an asset in the dissemination of excellent practice.

Haven’t we all been on pause?

One of the biggest worries has been the missed classroom time. I think it’s easy to assume that teachers training this year and last have had insufficient classroom time to be truly effective teachers. 

But this is simply not true. In fact, making such a wild assumption is dangerous and hugely short-sighted. 

Being on pause has allowed trainees and training providers to focus on the theoretical aspects of teaching much more. 

In addition, the wider teaching world has missed the same amount of classroom teaching time. The difference is that qualified teachers haven’t been constantly exposed to new material and had rigorous input about how to teach. In a lot of cases, skills have degraded – it’s no secret, but I assume I’ll be chastised for pointing it out. 

Trainees may have missed some classroom time, but they have had the additional input to ensure that they are fully prepared for the challenges of the classroom upon their return.

Could this be a good thing?

A lot of people might think that trainees who have learned to teach through the pandemic are screwed. I beg to differ. 

These cohorts are resilient, adaptable and have a level of self-efficacy that I haven’t seen before. I can’t wait to see how these experiences pan out and influence future careers. 

Adam Riches is an assistant principal and senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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