‘Hard, but fun’

I was encouraged by the PGCE student that tweeted yesterday, ‘first week hard, but fun.’ Hopefully, that student will feel the same way at the end of their course. The tweet set me thinking again about the eternal question of the positive effects of good teachers. There’s a body of literature out there that tries to quantify how much value a good teacher adds to pupils’ learning compared with a bad teacher. This sometimes encourages those bright sparks in think tanks to conclude we should sack all teachers that don’t achieve at least average gains over a defined time period for their students or use some such similar measure. Alternatively, and much more seductive, is the thesis that we should award performance related pay, merit pay or bonuses to such teachers.

The trouble with some of these thinkers is that they don’t live in the real world where issues of supply and demand complicate the picture. Physics and history are the two extremes of the supply-demand continuum at present. So, how much more do we pay a poor physics teacher than a poor history teacher just to be there? Alternatively, do we drop the subject for those pupils where we cannot recruit good enough physics teachers? Is a good biology teacher teaching physics better value than a less good physics teacher? In England, apart from entering training, and presumably when selecting middle leaders, subject knowledge is of limited value in some respects because anyone can be required to teach any subject to any pupils.

Leaving aside factors from outside the school, such as absence rates that can affect progress, most obviously in early years, but often throughout a pupil’s schooling where there is not good home support, there are also in-school factors affective performance. ‘I am sorry you have to teach in the temporary classroom or your pupils come straight from PE on a Monday, after drama on a Wednesday and their third lesson of the week is last period on a Friday afternoon’. No doubt really good teachers can overcome each and all of these challenges, but how to encourage the rest of the profession faced with those circumstances is a dilemma. Professional development, both personally inspired and intuitionally formulated can help, and the relative lack of spending despite the lack of experience of much of the teaching profession at the current time must be something of a worry.  Rather than focussing on how to reward teachers differently it might be more effective to help them understand the evidence on what works. Technology exists, and is used by many teachers to ask how to deal with problems. Rather than offering CPD on what we believe is needed perhaps a small fraction should be spend on responding to teachers’ needs.

Nest year, through an adjunct of the Teachvac (www.teachvac.com) web site that collects data on students and jobs, we hope to ask trainees what they need by way of extra training once they have secured their first teaching post and know they type of school where they will be working and exactly what they will be teaching.

In the meantime, best wishes to all that have started their training this autumn; may you enjoy your time in the teaching profession.

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