Teacher crisis may be sorted by soap ...;Opinion
MINISTERS concerned about teacher recruitment should watch more television.
And I don't mean the advertisement about not forgetting a good teacher which flickered briefly over our screens last year. They should take a good look at the news, soaps and documentaries, comparing how teaching and nursing, which are both experiencing a crisis in recruitment, are portrayed.
A Saturday evening watching Casualty would be particularly instructive. The nurses at Holby Hospital deal with a wide range of emergencies in an expert and sympathetic way. Anything that goes wrong, such as lack of beds, is explained by NHS underfunding. The image is of heroic nurses coping against all odds.
Ministers should also make sure they have seen Nurse. This documentary, shown in the weeks leading up to Christmas, followed the training of nurses at the university of Northumbria. It explored the motivations and experiences of a group of nurse trainees as they learned how to function in a variety of nursing situations. The human side of becoming such a professional was particularly well explored, as we saw a trainee children's nurse brushing away tears as he witnessed for the first time the joy of birth and then the sadness of the death of another seriously-ill baby. We also sympathised with the experiences of another trainee as she tried to wash a difficult and aggressive elderly patient with dementia. The clinical mentors and university tutors also had a starring role, being portrayed as knowledgeable and supportive while still being rigorous with those finding it difficult to make the grade.
There are no similar programmes about teaching. Even if there were, we know from the treatment of teachers in the news and in sit-coms that the script would probably be very different. Schools would be portrayed as being full of badly-behaved pupils due to the incompetence of silly teachers. Student teachers would have a drugs problem and any coverage of their training would most likely be interspersed with comments criticising university tutors' approach to phonics.
Watching Nurse made me want to start in a hospital the next day. It would be a wonderful boost to teacher recruitment if we could have a TV programme which explored the brilliant organisation required in reception classes or the sophisticated communication skills involved in teaching difficult adolescents. It would be equally good to see a mature student teacher carefully mastering her knowledge of geography in preparation for a field trip or a young man's sad thoughtfulness confronting for the first time the poverty in which some primary children live. And it would be amazing to see able school mentors and university tutors, each well-versed in good practice, offering constructive feedback on lesson planning in a way which clearly supports the development of teaching excellence.
I am delighted that my colleagues at the University of Northumbria have had their work, and that of nurses, documented so well. However, teacher educators also train students for an equally demanding professional role, at half the price, and with less waste. We are also concerned about recruitment. It is surely time to ask the media to promote teaching and help stop the haemorrhage of staff. Unless, that is, we are prepared to deal with the emergencies which are likely to result from only filling half of our secondary shortage subject places, training fewer than 100 physics teachers this year and seeing primary postgraduate certificate in education applications drop by one fifth.
Perhaps we could learn from Charlie and his colleagues at Holby Hospital.
They do not rely on the sticking plaster of Green Paper promises and a few financial incentives for maths and science recruits. They would probably sanction a large dose of antibiotics to combat the infection of testing in schools, a transfusion by government order of positive media images and a bedside manner towards both current and potential teachers.
Perhaps the Teacher Training Agency could commission such a programme and ask David Puttnam, proposer of the Teacher "Oscars" to produce it.
Meanwhile, probably at least 20 more soundbites will come out about teaching and 20 more recruits be lost as a result. However, maybe a programme called Teacher will top the ratings some day.
Professor Hazel Bines is head of teacher education in the faculty of health, social work and education at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle Opinion 19 TESJjanuary 15 1999 Charlie's angels: BBC Casualty's Josh Griffiths and Penny Alexander may inspire future paramedics RONALDGRANT 'Maybe a programme called Teacher will top the ratings some day'