Students with the outside edge
It's Wednesday. You have a Year 9 tutor group. The first period is set aside for personal and social education. Your head of year has just told you that the visiting speaker, who was to lead a session about Aids, has been taken ill. At lunchtime yesterday two members of your tutor group came to see you, one of them in tears: they had both been the subject of name-calling. The head of English has complained to you about pupils in your tutor group who have not been doing their homework. And you are in your first term of teaching!
Daunting? But not unexceptional. It's difficult enough for experienced teachers to handle these multiple demands, so how much more difficult is it for new teachers ?
It is a truism that we expect more and more of schools, and therefore of teachers. How effectively do we prepare new teachers for this sort of Wednesday morning demand? More generally, how effectively do we prepare them for their role in PSE, or their role in pastoral care in schools?
Although the Department for Education now, helpfully, specifies the competences expected of newly-qualified teachers, the focus is substantially on their abilities to manage and assess pupils' learning in their specialist subject. No one would deny that this is indeed the principal responsibility of new teachers, but so is the flexibility to respond to other demands in their work as classroom teachers.
This year in the secondary PGCE programme at the University of East Anglia we have tried to prepare our one-year graduate students for some of the challenges which will confront them as classroom teachers outside their subject areas, especially in their roles as form tutors or in personal and social education programmes. We believe that all new teachers are entitled to this kind of professional training complementary to the development of competence in teaching English, history, science, music or whatever is their main subject. We have called it the "complementary programme".
Working with schools but also with other statutory agencies, including the local health authority and careers services, and with charities working in drug and alcohol abuse, we identified seven core issues for the programme: HIVAids education, illegal drugs, legal drugs, sex education, bullying, careers education and advice and the role of the form tutor. Students attended a workshop session in each.
The aim of the sessions was not to make students "experts", which would have been fatuous, but to work with them to come to provisional answers to four questions: * What should I look out for or be aware of?
* What information can I, or must I provide?
* How do I handle these issues in the classroom?
* What sort of questions might I expect, and how should I respond?
A characteristic of all these areas is that they touch on our attitudes as teachers to the material we are asked to teach: our own views about drugs, about HIV, about sex and so on are not something that we can always, or easily, simply forget. So, we developed strategies to help students think about their own attitudes rather than simply transmit information. We used case studies, role play and group discussion to help students think about how they might handle these issues in their own classrooms.
We do not pretend that the programme has been comprehensive, nor that it prepares new teachers for every eventuality. Much of what we have done needs to be picked up in school-based elements of the course and in in-service work once the students are employed.
But we have helped them to consider how they might teach in classrooms when their own content knowledge is insecure, and where their own attitudes are an important element in the material they are teaching.
We have also, by example, been able to show student teachers the enormous range of "resources" which exist in the community through our co-operation with charities and other statutory agencies. In addition, we have been heartened by the reports we are now getting back from our students as they travel to interviews for their first jobs: no-one else, they say, has anything like UEA's programme.
Roy Barton and Chris Husbands The authors are lecturers in the school of education and professional development at the University of East Anglia