Lockdown is a weird time for us all; but spare a thought for trainee and newly qualified professionals that have been catapulted into their careers at an alarming rate. Teachers are not exempt from this fate and they will be starting their classroom careers without the support that would usually be on offer as lockdown bites.
In April it was announced that trainees on course to meet teaching standards will be awarded QTS at the end of their ITT course despite the lockdown. The DfE has issued guidance which will allow most trainees to gain their QTS and join the profession as a qualified teacher in September. The guidance also made it clear that any financial benefit that was promised as part of the training should continue to be paid in full until the end of the training period, which for most will be until July 2020.
The DfE has encouraged training providers to continue to provide learning opportunities for trainees and they may have been encouraged to use online resources and taken part in virtual training sessions provided by their university. Student teachers have also been encouraged to continue to be a part of their placement school and may have been given tasks to complete: this is especially true for Teach First trainees as they are employed directly by the school.
During lockdown, time can drag and those candidates that feel at a loose end could be encouraged to use this time to prepare for their career in the classroom. They should reflect on any observations and reports to try and generate areas that they need to focus on and try to improve. They can use this insight into their own areas of development to read up in journals and articles. In addition, they could invest in becoming more classroom-ready by upskilling and completing online CPD, with many courses being without charge. For example they could get their AQA A Level Sciences CPAC assessment qualification completed.
It is worth being mindful that these new-to-the-profession teachers have been robbed of a large proportion of their hands-on teaching practice. They have not had the full experience of working at near full-time teacher’s contact hours or experienced a whole academic year from the other side of the fence as a staff member rather than a pupil. In addition, for the practical subjects such as science and technology, trainees will not have experienced the common place practicals. However, one of the biggest concerns is that our current trainees will not have enjoyed the luxury of being able to try different pedagogical ideas without fear, knowing that there is always a qualified teacher on hand as well in a trainee’s classroom as a mentor to debrief and pick up the emotional pieces from a challenging school experience.
Going forward, it is important that those of us already bedded into the profession look out for our new colleagues who are starting their teaching journey this September. They will not be as experienced, and probably less confident, that the usual influx of NQTs. Mentoring is going to be a very important part of supporting these fledgling teachers and helping them rationalise their experiences and not catastrophize but learn and develop, building resilience until they become confident in the classroom. As well as mentoring within the school, it is worth considering professional mentoring such as The Royal Society of Chemistry, where professional support can be given outside their workplace, and encouraging meeting (albeit digitally at the moment) with like-minded people to build skills, such as through ASE TeachMeets.
What about current NQTS?
Those already in the classroom as NQTs will not now had a ‘normal’ academic year under their belt. They too may benefit from an extension of the mentoring support into their second year of teaching. Many teachers in the early part of their career may feel that they need to show their worth during lockdown. This could manifest itself into being a keyboard warrior on the email system and producing elaborate lesson plans, contacting students and parents with a wealth of home learning resources across many platforms – giving free codes to access as they do. The anxiety of the teacher to please and meet targets could lead to burnout for the teacher and overload for the student, as well as stress for the supporting parent at home.
So, it is important for us as experienced teachers to reach out, suggest smart ways of working that conserve energy of the teacher and the sanity of those trying to follow the programme at home. Maybe share the workload and plan lessons which are then shared across the key stage or subject. It is worth encouraging NQTs to choose a few trusted resources such as:
Ideally self-marking exercises should be set, rather than having a class full of screen shots or word documents to ‘mark’. This allows teachers to collect the data to show progression for their students and to send lots of praise back to the students (and the parents!).
And what about everyone else?
And what about you? There is only one of you and you need to look after yourself as well as your family and colleagues. Remember to take time for yourself; remove your school emails from your mobile phone, set an alarm to remind you to take break time and lunch time and to end the working day. It is important that you take time to relax as well as work, and you may have extra home commitments such as caring for vulnerable friends or family and home educating your own children. You can’t do it all, and that is OK; you, like always, are doing your best and there is nothing more that can be asked of you. You might find that resources such as Every Mind Matters can give some helpful tips to take care of you in this difficult time.
Sam Holyman is Second in Science at Aylesford School in Warwick, and formerly West Midlands ASE President. She is also the author of a number of best-selling science textbooks for KS3 and GCSE (including the AQA GCSE Foundation: Combined Science Trilogy and Entry Level Certificate Student Book), and a keen advocate of innovative teaching and learning.
Sam was nominated in the Teacher Scientist category for the Science Council’s 100 leading practising scientists, is a Chartered Science Teacher, and has recently been awarded a CPD Quality mark.
Looking for some lockdown reading? Teachers at all stages in their careers, including trainees and NQTs, will find something of interest among Oxford’s range of teacher training and development titles.