Trust me I’m a … PGCE tutor?!

The Carter review into teacher training is out. Out, but also in: kicked into the long grass unless a College Of Teaching gets off the ground. There is continuing disbelief in some political circles that the PGCE route into QTS is of any value.

Here is what I think. But wait, you can’t trust me, I am only a PGCE tutor.  An ex-teacher. Nearly 20 years in schools, two daughters going through the education system, apparently I know nothing useful (or am being patronising to claim otherwise). I am merely an ‘educationalist’, see @oldandrewuk for a powerful explanation of this view.

So do I know anything useful? The Collins dictionary defines an educationalist as ‘a person who has a special knowledge of the principles and methods of teaching’.

I haven’t forgotten everything I learned as a teacher and my current job entails being in school and working with teachers. But I have changed my mind about generic issues, for example learning styles, and about history teaching specifically, as a result of being a PGCE tutor. Why? When working full-time in school, I was encouraged to study for a Masters to develop my understanding of management and leadership. In fairness, I had a lot to learn about this. Sadly, it didn’t occur to school leaders that a Masters could enable me to be a better History teacher. Apparently I was good enough. Meanwhile, I mentored trainee teachers in school.  I loved the focus on learning, seeing many great teachers in the making.

What do I specialise in now as a secondary tutor? I focus on how people think about their subject as they begin teaching, and how this thinking underpins their performance in the classroom. As I read research, I see that deep learning in the History classroom is even more difficult to achieve than I realised. Reading therefore boosts my admiration for those who teach; so we go into many classrooms on our PGCE, in sessions called learning rounds. But I build into the university elements of the PGCE an opportunity for student teachers to change their minds about what they think History in school should be, and how children learn to think using an understanding of the past. We use research by Lee, Ashby, Pickles, Wineburg and Chapman, reflecting on practice seen in schools, Teaching History, and online. I read Burn, Shulman, Fordham,and others, about developing professional knowledge and judgement. I recognise that the new knowledge we draw upon at Roehampton has been created, or in the case of Teaching History, celebrated and supported, by colleagues working in other universities, such as Christine Counsell.

Is knowledge enough? No. I meet teachers daily who act with integrity, having the well-being of children as a primary concern. As experienced teachers take on the role of leading teacher training in their schools, they apply the same principle to their work with new teachers. Whilst keeping a focus on the progress of pupils, they deal with the contradictions implied by an obligation to put the needs of new teachers first. Working with PGCE tutors can be one way to work out these contradictions.

Do PGCE tutors know or do anything useful? Whilst extensive experience in schools will always be necessary as you begin to learn about teaching, it is not always sufficient. For many beginning teachers, a PGCE tutor enables new teachers to think critically about their subject, to change their minds about how children learn, and to develop professional judgement.

If the College of Teaching is to have a role in writing a curriculum for initial teacher training, (though there are other reasons for including us), it needs to include trainers. The fact is that we have relevant knowledge and experience. We aren’t the only people who have this knowledge but we do have the well-being and progress of beginning teachers as our core purpose. Maybe this is why you should trust me…

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One Comment

  1. Great read Ali, and you make a really important point.

    I agree the practice of history teaching (teaching generally for that matter) is not merely to be _received_ by those apprenticed to a particular school. It needs to be developed, learned, to be understood. For me the main benefit of my PGCE was the induction into ‘thinking practice’ that Anna Pendry and Katharine Burn have given me. I wasn’t just taught ‘the best way to do this is..’, I was given techniques, but also perspectives and reasoning. I was given the opportunity to try things, to improve them, to get things wrong and then to change my mind, all by trying to be aware of the learning I was going through, but also crucially the learning and experiences of my students. I left my PGCE not as a finished teacher, but with the tools and ideas I’d need for my practice to develop.

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