It isn’t that Hard to Make a “Poor” Teacher a “Good” One

There is a theory among educational circles that a struggling teacher can’t improve. This is probably true in today’s climate, but it isn’t a reflection on under-performing teachers, but rather a reflection on the total lack of support given to teachers.

A teacher’s journey begins with a pressurised, yet basically completely useless, teacher training course. This course not only fails to provide teachers with the requisite practical skills but is often taught and run by former teachers who are overjoyed at the prospect of finally being out of the classroom.

Then, if that teacher is lucky enough to score a job at a school with resources, a track record of half-decent behaviour and academic standards (because let’s face it – graduate teachers often go to the toughest schools to teach in), they are left on their own. No mentor, no support system. They are put in an environment where every teacher is in charge of their own classroom and teamwork is often non-existent.

That teacher can always break the unwritten rule and ask for help, but that would be a mistake. A graduate teacher’s first contract is usually a 12-month trial run. That teacher cannot afford to advertise their uncertainty and lack of experience. Teachers are overburdened as it is and many resent having to help an amateur when they have an ever-increasing workload to deal with. Therefore, a graduate teacher that asks for help risks not having their contract extended, thereby risking future employment.

So what do these teachers do? They learn on the job. And that’s where mistakes are made and bad habits are formed.

These bad habits sometimes make them look like “poor” teachers. Many of them are just well intentioned teachers who have never been given the support they needed.

The public are probably very supportive of new regulations that makes it harder for teachers branded “incompetent” from finding a new teaching job. I bid them to see beyond the labels and call on the system to support our teachers rather than replacing them for a newer version of the same thing:

For the first time, schools will be given legal powers to find out whether staff applying for new jobs have previously been subjected to official warnings.

Former employers will be required to disclose any disciplinary action taken against teachers over the last two years to give new schools a more comprehensive picture of their ability.

The regulations – being introduced from this September – come amid fears that too many schools allow weak teachers to leave and find new jobs rather than draw attention to their performance.

In the last decade, just 17 staff in England have been officially struck off for incompetence.

But teachers’ leaders insisted that the regulations would treat teachers “worse than criminals” and force some out of the profession altogether.

Click here to read about how I would solve the problem of the unsupported teacher.

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5 Responses to “It isn’t that Hard to Make a “Poor” Teacher a “Good” One”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    It is completely different from when I started teaching. Competition has ousted co-operation and collegiality. Mentoring was something more experienced teachers did as a matter of course. Now mentoring is the province of upwardly mobile but nonetheless inexperienced teachers who follow a manual instead of drawing on years of experience. The average executive has no more idea about what to do with student exhibiting behaviour problems than the average graduate teacher so no help there. i wouldn’t want to be starting all over again now.

  2. Voiceless in America Says:

    Reblogged this on Voiceless in America.

  3. Jason Preater Says:

    Forcing teachers out of the profession is all about maintaining a climate of fear and oppression where the key factors to being a good teacher are control and silence in the classroom. I’d rather have a sympathetic incompetent than a competent martinet any day and still have fond memories of teachers who did not control like their bullying colleagues.

    • John Tapscott Says:

      Incompetence is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose when I began teaching I was incompetent. My training was a 2 year course which qualified me to teach primary school. The training was more thorough, then, than the four years of academics trainee teachers get now. There was also more support from the management, who having been beginning teachers themselves understood what the problems were. Management usually consisted of well experienced teachers who were always more ready to give support and advice than the current crop of management, many of whom have been fast tracked into their positions, missing out on a lot of experience on the way.

      The teacher-mentor position is a promotion for someone wanting to fast track their career after only a few years experience and patience with a struggling young teacher is not always forthcoming. It’s much easier to go straight to the “improvement program” which consists in increasing the burden on the young teacher preparatory to giving them the sack.

      Not long ago I worked in a high school with a Teacher-Mentor who would have been lucky to have had a quarter of my experience. Also at the school was a struggling beginning teacher who was being made to jump through numerous hoops not only by the Teacher-Mentor but also by about 10 other “experts” (in nothing) all pecking on this young teacher. As a teacher of many years experience I saw potential in this young man where the others only saw an opportunity to bully. I must also add that the class to which he was assigned was such that when a high faluting consultant turned up, being paid $3000 (!) a day, to show us all how to do it, he (the consultant) failed miserably in any attempt to engage this class in any learning. As a matter of fact they devoured him.

      My young friend returned to university at departmental expense to retrain as a maths teacher. At the end of his course he was appointed to a school with similar problems. His old nemesis the Teacher-Mentor had also transferred to this new school and wasted no time getting on his case and in no time at all he was placed on an “improvement program”. I don’t think he failed the program. the program failed him. He was dismissed. Following this he was able to secure casual days in Catholic schools. His work here was greatly appreciated. Finally he was able to secure a permanent position in another Catholic school in another town where i understand his career is thriving.

      Teacher training needs to be much more practical, the theory less academic and management has to be prepared to give beginning teachers time to develop their own skills and teaching styles under the supervision of experienced teachers who need not be part of management. Beginning teachers, having been better trained than is now the case, should not be required to jump through artificial and arbitrary hoops to prove their worth, but be allowed time to reflect on their performance as they go, developing an internal set of motivations that will be more effective than all the prompting and bullying that goes on at the present time.

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