This is the second of my articles from the free #pgcetips ebook for trainee teachers.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
When I was completing my PGCE we had a number of guest lectures from an expert on synthetic phonics. The University, quite rightly, deemed this to be very important as none of us had been taught to read using this method, and were entirely unfamiliar with it. I was flabbergasted by the number of fellow students who expressed the opinion that this method of teaching backed up by scientific research was ‘a load of rubbish’. Their reason? They never learned to read using such a ‘convoluted’ method, and they had ‘turned out all right’.
At the time this surprised me, but I find it is actually quite a common reaction when people are faced with new ways of doing things in the classroom. It is a dangerous point of view because it shows an implicit assumption that the world we are educating children for is the same as the one we were educated for. It is not. I am a young teacher, but in the 15 years since I was at primary school I have gone from having one computer for 30 children in my class, to carrying in my pocket a computer 1000 times more powerful that is constantly connected to the Internet. That changes things. A lot.
A world of constant, instant connection both to others and to factual knowledge requires hugely different skills. A class of children educated for a world of the authoritative, but quickly outdated knowledge contained in printed books are not being prepared for navigating the immediate, but often dubiously reliable flow of information on the Internet. A class of children given no experience of publishing to a wide audience are liable to make some massive gaffes when they discover the freedom to do so as teenagers and vent ill-considered opinions to the entire world. A class of children treated by their teacher as vessels to be filled with factual knowledge must feel short changed when they realise they can access all this knowledge and more with a few taps of the touchscreen in their pocket. My class have realised that already. They are 8.
Education needs to change, as it is quickly becoming irrelevant to the world that today’s children live in. As teachers, we may be stuck in the past but these children are not, and if we don’t keep up we will quickly become irrelevant too.
So, you may be wondering what a ‘mere’ PGCE student can do about all this. My answer is recognize that education needs to change to match this new world, and make that change now. You will come across many people that urge you to ‘concentrate on the basics’, to observe experienced teachers and mimic what they do, and to sort out your day to day practice before trying something different. To a certain extent this is true, there are a lot of basics to learn and a lot of great people to use as examples, but you needn’t be the same as them. After all, most of them trained in a time that is ancient history to the children they are teaching.
You will never be more eager to try things out, you will never be less jaded about experimenting, and you will never have the same spark to innovate as you do when you first start. You might not know some of the ‘basics’, the ways things have always been done, but that puts you in an excellent position to look at things in terms of what is most effective rather than what has become habit. You aren’t limited by the preconceptions that experienced teacher have, so you have the perfect opportunity to come up with new ideas. Seize it.
If things go wrong you have the luxury of being a beginner, you won’t be the first PGCE student to do a failure of a lesson, people will forgive you. If you make some colossal mistakes, then you will be out of there in a few weeks anyway and class teachers expect trainees to be less than perfect. Granted, you might need to rein yourself in a bit if you have an important observation coming up, or if your experimenting is losing you the respect of colleagues and pupils, but you will never have a better time to take some risks and try some new things.
If you think you can’t make a difference as an inexperienced teacher you are wrong. Whilst completing his PGCE Tim Handley, the editor of this book, started a blog of his ideas and reflections. By the time he had got his QTS certificate it had been viewed nearly 13,000 times. That is 13,000 expressions of interest in his innovative lesson ideas. By the end of my NQT year I had been invited to present at the headquarters of Internet giant Google, and advise my local authority on embedding technology in the classroom. You can make a difference, if you make a commitment to do so from the start.
Don’t put off innovation. If you go into a placement and decide to do everything in the same way that your experienced class teacher does then you are already stuck in someone else’s rut. If you put ideas aside and tell yourself you will innovate next year it will never happen. Your NQT year has many more pressures not to innovate, such as full responsibility for achievement and results. If you start as you mean to go on you will always be an innovative teacher, you will always be receptive to change and will always keep yourself relevant and meaningful to your pupils and the world they are growing up into.
Isn’t that what they deserve?