Want some new tricks? Talk to new teachers

6th March 2015 at 00:00
The profession is always changing and newcomers' ideas can be invaluable - as this headteacher learned from his daughter

As my eldest daughter and I travelled down the motorway, we had an interesting discussion. It was the last time I would collect her from university and I was all geared up for her to become a forensic scientist - my image of which was based on watching too many US dramas over the years. Instead she announced that she wanted to be a teacher, like her dad.

Talk about shock. At that point, I had been a headteacher for 16 years and I didn't know what to say. I certainly wasn't going to put her off, as I loved the job so much. But I did suggest she should try working in a school for a year before embarking on her teacher training.

Eight years on, she is a very successful and talented teacher, and I find myself asking what we each get from this aspect of our father-daughter relationship. Am I a better headteacher because I am so familiar with the teacher experience, having seen it through her eyes? Is she a better teacher because she more fully understands the demands and decisions that need to be made at the top of the school hierarchy?

The initial years in the teaching profession are always challenging, and my daughter certainly had her fair share of issues. Some I could help with, some I couldn't. And I'm sure she would agree it's not easy being the offspring of a headteacher who is well known in the area where she works.

Without a doubt, my daughter has the personality to deal with the job. And our relationship remains strong on a paternal and professional level. We often talk about education and very seldom disagree, but we both recognise the differences between teaching now and doing the job 35 years ago - and also the differences between being a teacher and leading a school. So what have I learned from my daughter that has been useful for my own work?

Give time for growth

The quality of training and the quality of teaching skills expected from new staff have changed enormously over the decades. Recruits are given no time to learn the craft of being a good teacher. They go straight into it, with no probation period and no time to learn by failing.

We also expect all new teachers to have skills in every area straight away, and to be capable of dealing with parents, overenthusiastic headteachers, inspectors and the demands of a changing curriculum.

Most can do it. But that's not to say that they should. I am now a little more understanding with my new teachers, and try to give them room to breathe when they need it. We - the older generation - had time to develop. And we need to give our new members of staff the same leeway to mature and grow into the teachers we want and deserve (inspectors should recognise this, too).

Learn to listen

New teachers are very good at listening to advice and taking it on board. They are incredibly open. But I often wonder whether we are good enough at listening to them. It is vital that we do so, because they are the future of our profession. They have enormous amounts to offer, and schools must ensure they have systems in place to utilise these skills. Schools need to change with their workforce - they should always be evolving and shouldn't expect staff to mould themselves into a generic idea of what a teacher should be. We need to give promising young teachers the chance to influence the sector.

Prioritise passion

My daughter came into the profession with a genuine love of teaching and children. Too many of her friends and colleagues have lost this love, because it was driven out of them by the very professionals who need to remember what passion for education feels like. We must nurture each and every teacher and continually enhance their teaching knowledge and career development.

Boost work-life balance

Far too many young people drop out of working in education too quickly and some are even forced out. I think I was a good teacher when I started, but I was never as good as my daughter and I certainly didn't work the hours she works. Too many young teachers feel undervalued and underpaid, and inevitably move to other jobs.

I have listened to my daughter and tried to respond, and I'm proud that no newly qualified teacher has ever left my school in the first years of their career. Our profession needs these young dynamic individuals and us "oldies" must play our part in ensuring that they fulfil their potential.

George Shipp is a pseudonym. He is the headteacher of a primary school in the South of England

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