Student teachers are getting a lousy deal

28th October 2005 at 01:00
What gifts would most please Scottish student teachers, since HMIE has confirmed that teacher placement arrangements are strained to breaking point? (TESS, October 14). The best possible education both in schools and colleges to turn them into very good teachers? Finance to help mature students cope with mortgages and loss of comfortable salaries from previous jobs? All of these could cover column inches on their own.

What is most disturbing about the gloomy news on teacher placements is that, without rigorously supervised spells in schools, student teachers will be nothing more than clones of those who teach them - all theory and no practice. Schools should demonstrate best practice in the classroom and sift the wheat from the chaff with regard to what the training institutions have fed the students.

Yet some schools apparently are using the student teacher as an extra pair of hands. This is deplorable, but understandable. Supply teachers have never been so difficult to procure and this is likely to escalate to an acute crisis once the winter illnesses kick in. More and more schools rely on internal cover from already stretched and harassed colleagues with a detrimental knock-on effect on student teachers.

The present fiasco over placements may yet mean that students will be compelled to give up their courses mid-term. (There's an interesting question: how many students on the one year teacher training course have already given up?) I know that postgraduate home economics students who live in Edinburgh but attend Jordanhill have recently been told that there is no guarantee that they will receive Edinburgh placements. This is potentially catastrophic.

One mature student has told me that failure to give her an Edinburgh placement will effectively mean that she will have to pull out of the course. Her domestic circumstances mean that leaving home at 6am, or even before, to travel to a Glasgow school would be impossible. It would be difficult to find muddier waters. Where is the will to make all of this work?

Just as perturbing is the quality of the teaching in the training institutions. Students tell me it is evident that the lecturers suffer from a lack of recent experience in the classroom. The aforementioned home economics student was mortified when the lecturer started demonstrating to the class how to thread a sewing machine. It defies explanation. Travelling the considerable distance from Edinburgh to Glasgow to be treated like a primary school pupil is not exactly inspiring.

No one is saying that the lecturers aren't nice people, but how can you teach others to teach school pupils if you have not taught for some time? There is nothing more difficult in education than standing up in front of a class and teaching. This is what will always separate the achievers from the non-achievers, so why are college lecturers, who are training teachers, exempt from this yardstick?

Yes, yes, you can keep up with the research, swallow it and digest it. But, if you don't apply it in the classroom, you can't possibly know if it's useful or not. Who inspects the teaching at teacher training institutions and grades it? Why is it OK for lecturers to go out to schools to assess students for a dazzling show, while they themselves may give a bumbling performance in the college lecture theatre?

Someone needs to get a grip of a very dismal situation before this creaking system falls apart altogether. Trainee teachers are highly stressed. What is also at stake is whether we will produce sufficient teachers to replace an ageing workforce - a huge number of us will retire within the next 10 years. Raising concerned eyebrows and mouthing frothy soundbite slogans will not be enough when children have to be sent home.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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