Voyage from a land of fantasy

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Adi Bloom reports on the life cycle of a teacher - from idealistic newcomer to masterful classroom practitioner

They begin bright-eyed and enthusiastic. Then the idealism vanishes, and their biggest dream is to make it to the end of the day. With age comes experience and the ability to control a class and teach a lesson. But it is only much later that they are truly in control.

This is the life cycle of the average teacher, say researchers.

Drawing on previous studies, Robin Bevan, deputy head of King Edward VI grammar, in Essex, has categorised four progressive stages of a teaching career:fantasy, survival, mastery and impact.

Newcomers pass through the fantasy stage, during which they idealise the job and dream of adopting the best traits of their favourite teachers.

Mr Bevan said: "The fantasy is interrupted by teaching practice... The transition to a first job often proves shocking... The pace, extent and demands of a full teaching load all take their toll."

At this point, the fantasy crumbles, and the teacher passes into the survival phase.

New teachers often depend on advice from more experienced colleagues. But many cling to a fantasy of self-sufficiency, and are reluctant to look to educational research for help.

Typically, after four to eight years, teachers begin to stabilise. They are more at ease in the classroom, consolidating teaching and behaviour management.

The report said: "Achieving improved student learning replaces achieving good student behaviour as the principal concern... This is the point when the teacher understands what needs to be done to engage students in learning, and just does it."

At this stage, teachers are more likely to use research reports for classroom inspiration.

The report said: "The validity of research findings is seen to be dependent upon each practitioner's experience. 'I tried it and it didn't work' is equated with poor research."

From here, not all teachers develop in the same way. For some, the staleness of routine sets in. This leads to self-doubt, which prevents them from progressing beyond the third stage.

For others, experimentation and refinement of technique leads to increased classroom impact. Thisphase is characterised by informed tinkering with tried-and-tested classroom techniques.

Such tinkering could develop into research, reinforcing successful practice. Mr Bevan concludes: "Each of these phases is characterised by a dominant disposition towards the use of educational research. Teachers filter, fragment and fiddle with research, primarily motivated by a desire to extract and apply what is immediately useful."



Melissa Waters, an NQT in design and technology at Costessey high, in Norwich, came into teaching with high ideals. "I had some inspiring teachers," said the 29-year-old. "I wanted to have that effect on other kids."

But several weeks into her first job her aims have altered slightly. "I'm surprised by the amount of time spent planning lessons. There's more paperwork than I imagined, and there are certain behaviour issues you need to deal with swiftly.

"Last year, my social life was non-existent. It's a little better this year. But it's difficult to think about being inspiring when you're planning lessons for the next day."

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