Charting a new course

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Karen Shead talks to some of the first teachers to join the chartered teacher programme about their aims and experiences

The chartered teacher programme offers teachers the chance to gain a professional qualification and increase their salary by staying in the classroom rather than having to take on a management job.

To complete the programme a teacher will have to undertake 12 modules: four core modules, four option modules and then work-based projects equivalent to four options. On completion of all 12, a Masters degree is awarded.

For some teachers, there is the option of taking the fast route for those with accreditation of prior learning, which allows previous experience or learning to be substituted for a relevant module.

Modules can be carried out by distance learning, face to face with tutors or through five days' full attendance on campus.

The first four modules cover professional development, learning and teaching, education for all and working together. The teachers we spoke to piloted modules one and three.

The first module involves teachers looking at their development and careers to date and reflecting on how they perform in the classroom. It is a way to challenge and re-assess teaching methods they have been using for years.

There are two written assignments.

In the pilot, the teachers who chose to study the module by face-to-face learning attended a meeting at the beginning of the course and then met up every three weeks on a Wednesday evening. They also attended some sessions on a Saturday within the six months it took to complete the course. The meetings involved discussions with other teachers and completing tasks in class.

For the teachers who chose to do the module by distance learning, there was an initial meeting at the beginning of the course where they were given an idea of what to expect, with examples of what the tutors were looking for in their work. The meeting also gave them a chance to meet other people on the course who could be e-mailed throughout the duration of the module.

The teachers then received information and materials by post. They were given a programme of what to do, which suggested roughly three hours of work a week, but, as they didn't have to check in with the tutors each week, it was up to them to do the work as and when they could.

The third module, Education for All, was carried out through distance learning, as it is research-based. It deals with the subjects of inclusion and barriers to learning. Each teacher has to choose a class that poses difficulties, or identify an area in the school where they think there are barriers to learning, and must then look at ways of overcoming them.

There was a meeting at the beginning of the course and at the end for those on the pilot. Again, materials were sent through the post. A "buddy system" was also set up, with contact details of a group of people the teachers could contact via e-mail. This module involved spending time in the classroom, carrying out research and then writing up the project.

The teachers we spoke to said the advantages with distance learning were that there was less travel and that they could choose when to work. The downsides were feeling remote and needing the self-discipline to make sure they carried out the work and didn't let other things in their life take over and push the project work down their list of priorities.

On the other hand, if they were meeting face-to-face, they had to go along to the meetings and do the work at a specific time. They also had the opportunity to discuss matters with other people and so learn from each other. But different things worked for different people, and they can choose according to their circumstances.

The teachers on the pilot preferred the third module, because it involved spending time in class and seeing first hand the results of changes they had made, whereas the first module was more theoretical and involved evaluating themselves.

The teachers we spoke to didn't know what to expect from the modules, but found them more specific and focused than they had imagined. There were strict criteria and standards in place, which was seen as positive by all three.

The modules were hard work and time consuming, but the teachers agreed that the study was worthwhile and enjoyable.

None of them devised timetables or strategies for doing the work, but they seemed to fit it in. The amount of time they spent studying each week varied from three to six hours. The teachers' main concerns were the possible cost of the programme. They feel that if a teacher has to pay for each module they take, it will put some people off.

They also fear that one possible outcome of having chartered teacher status is that they will be given extra managerial tasks in school - when they want to use their status as a tool to help the school and its pupils directly.

Debbie Gardner, 28, teaches English and history at Greenwood Academy in Irvine, North Ayrshire. She has been teaching for four years and lives with her family in Doonfoot.

Debbie Gardner wanted to do the chartered teachers pilot programme because it would help develop her career.

"I had been teaching for just over two years when I applied to do the pilot scheme," she says. "My probationary period had finished a year ago and I felt that I didn't have a focus. I was just getting into teaching and wanted something to aim for.

"I wanted to do something to make sure I kept on developing, and that was the main reason why I applied for the chartered teacher training."

Ms Gardner didn't have ambitions to leave the classroom and isn't motivated by the thought of extra money or the chartered teacher title itself. "I really like the idea that what you are doing will benefit the kids and I am really interested in that," she says.

"I didn't take the course in order to help me be a headteacher at a young age or anything like that. It's beneficial to the kids and to you. It's very focused on your style in the classroom. The difference is that you stay in the classroom but you are rewarded both academically and financially."

At the module meetings, Ms Gardner was one of the youngest and least experienced teachers present. She hopes to continue with the programme, though she will have to put it on hold for a while because she is eight months pregnant.

"I won't attempt to continue until my child is a year old," she says. "So after a year maybe I will think about it again. Also, I would have to think more carefully about it if I have to pay for each module.

"I am assuming that I will follow the full programme - not the APL. Because I've only been teaching for a few years I do intend to do every module."

Ms Gardner found the most difficult aspect of the course was finding time to do the work. "We were given an idea of what we should be doing each week, but I found it hard to stick to as you have other commitments at home.

"I often had to cram things in. But they were flexible with me. And if they are going to be as flexible as they have been with me, then there won't be a problem for other people," she says.

"The only thing I would say is that with a subject like English at times you have a lot of marking to do - there are a lot of subjects like that. So at certain times of the term it's extremely difficult to do what you have to do at school as well as the course."

Nevertheless, Ms Gardner would recommend the course to other teachers - but only if they are willing to make time to accommodate the workload.

"I don't think every teacher is going to be interested in doing this. But for people looking for promotion without management then I really would recommend it," she says.

Duncan McColl, 42, is head of science at Dalbeattie High in Dumfries and Galloway. He has been teaching for 14 years and lives in Castle Douglas with his family.

The choice came up between the management side of things or staying in the classroom and developing skills there. I prefer to be in front of the kids rather than pushing paper," says Duncan McColl.

He likes the idea of giving teachers a chance of being rewarded based on teaching experience.

"For 15 years I've been teaching away and at times you get stuck in a bit of a rut," he says. "This gets the juices going. It has made me keen to get involved in more things and it opens up channels to communicate with other teachers from different subjects and levels."

Mr McColl has done two modules. "I passed the first one and am still waiting to hear about the second, but I hope to carry on.

"I was pleased with what I had done, but you are not sure if what you do is the same as what the university academics want. There's always a little doubt as to whether you are doing the right thing."

He says that if people do not have the support of their partner it could be difficult to do the project because of the amount of time spent on it. "I am quite fortunate that my wife is also in education, but if someone was trying to do this programme and their partner wasn't in education they might not be so sympathetic," he says.

"And you need a certain amount of self-management."

Mr McColl is unsure if he wants to try the fast-track route. "You can follow the accreditation of prior learning route if you have done something that could count for one of the modules," he says. "This could mean you free up a year of modules and to be a chartered teacher you have to complete six years of study. So if you follow the APL route you could do the course in half the time and I am not sure this is fair. Does it make you a better or worse chartered teacher if you don't do all of the modules? I don't know."

Although the project takes up a lot of time, he would like to carry on. "If I was doing future work I would hope that a period of school time would be allocated as, in the end, the school benefits. Time is very tight in schools but I am hoping they will recognise it."

Pat Lyden, 55, teaches maths at Rosshall Academy, Glasgow. She has been teaching since 1972, with a 14-year break to bring up her children. She went back into the profession nine years ago. She lives with her husband in Dumbarton.

I wanted to do the chartered teacher programme as it keeps an interest in the job and it's a challenge," says Pat Lyden.

"I've done a lot of continuing professional development but it's all been in-service training and nothing like this. This is something to get my teeth into and I can carry it through to the classroom."

Mrs Lyden believes the programme is a great opportunity to further her career and to be involved in a wider project. Her main interest in chartered status is that it will benefit her as well as her pupils.

"I like the academic life and I enjoy education. That is why I am doing it," she says.

"I'm not doing it to help my pension or anything like that. In fact, it won't make very much difference to my pension plans, as I didn't get into the scheme until eight years ago. I didn't really look at those kinds of factors.

"To have this opportunity to go back into education but at the same time approach it in the classroom is great and that's why I am doing it."

Mrs Lyden says she is not an ambitious person and has never wanted to be a principal teacher. But she believes she is ambitious in the way she is determined that her pupils should succeed.

"I put a lot of energy into my work and have high expectations," she says.

"I like working with people and through teaching you certainly get to do that. I have always seen myself as a teacher and I like my job."

Mrs Lyden has completed two of the pilot modules. "I think the modules themselves are a challenge," she says.

"If you do all 12 it would take about five or six years. I did two modules in a year and although some people could manage four, they would be pushing to do that. But I can't do any less than two a year otherwise I'd be retired by the time I finish.

"You can be accredited with some of the modules depending on your previous experience. I am looking at that closely, but most of my experience has been in the classroom and not academic."

Mrs Lyden is happy to continue with the programme and would recommend it to other teachers. "At this stage in my career it is easy to think there is a set way of doing things, but doing these modules has encouraged me to look at other things to see if they work. It opens your eyes to other methods," she says.

"It does take up quite a bit of time, but I am fortunate that my family is all brought up."

Overall, Mrs Lyden enjoyed the courses she has done. "I feel that I've achieved something and there's a good sense of satisfaction," she says.

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