Intervention for new teachers makes a play of re-engagement

1st February 2014 at 06:00

“It’s sweet to be all day doing so much good.” So said theologian Richard Baxter about teaching, way back in 1673. And idealists have been enticed into the profession ever since by the promise of doing something incomparably altruistic with their lives.

But chasms can appear between new recruits’ expectations and the reality in classrooms. Just ask researcher Julianne Mullen-Williams, who is working with 20 newly qualified teachers over two years in inner-city London schools.

She found that the group were frequently dejected that carefully planned lessons fell on deaf ears and that bored teens could not see the point of the work in front of them – let alone get around to doing it. And that's just the start of the issues the teachers face.

Following her observations, Ms Mullen-Williams has come up with a novel solution to help these teachers: drama interventions. This support strategy – for the teachers, not the students – combines expressive arts and therapeutic practices to give teachers an “aerial view” of classroom troubles, according to the PhD student at Anglia Ruskin University’s Cambridge campus.

It all starts with something decidedly undramatic, however: a reflective exercise. Teachers are asked to produce a range of drawings that visualise their classroom, matching their experience to imagery. Is your classroom a dark forest, an expansive seashore or an unbreachable mountain summit?

Teachers too often blame themselves for failed lessons and do not pick up on other reasons for students’ lack of interest, says Ms Mullen-Williams, but “an aesthetic distance helps to see the situation more clearly”.

Her work is fuelled by knowledge that around 40 per cent of teachers in England are estimated to leave the profession within five years of qualifying – a concern shared by chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw, who wants to see more sophisticated support for new teachers.

Whether drama interventions catch on as a way of providing that support remains to be seen, but we'd like to hear whether similar interventions have worked for you, or whether you have been through other interventions that have got you back on track. We'd also love to hear from training or newly qualified teachers for our Tales From New Teachers column. 

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