The BBC have been quick to jump on the bandwagon of Channel 4’s successful school-set fly-on-the-wall documentaries.
Musharaf collected the award for Educating Yorkshire for the Best Documentary Series at the National Television Awards while Mr Burton and Mr Mitchell were on featured on Channel 4‘s Big Fat Quiz of the Year, which, in my opinion, is even more newsworthy - with their new series Tough Young Teachers (TYT). The two differ in that Educating Yorkshire focused on the institution of a school whereas TYT focuses on the teaching profession and the lives of teachers.
It examines the life of 6 new teachers on the Teach First programme, a programme which takes fresh, high-flying, graduates, and places them in low-income, often inner-city, schools after 6 weeks training. After one year in the classroom they gain their teacher qualifications, while after two years they complete Teach First’s Leadership Development Programme. They can then continue to teach or choose a completely different career path.
The main topic of conversation I want to take about is Meryl. She’s an English teacher in the first year of her programme who’s admitted she doesn’t enjoy reading. I must say, I’ve taken a dislike to her. I dislike her attitude - she’s suggested that if the kids aren’t prepared to listen and learn then that’s their problem - and she’s oblivious to her position as a new teacher. I mean, she’s still driving a car with green ‘P’ plates, stall-starting and stall-stopping, and at no point did it cross her mind that 16-year-old kids might tease and judge her (in the wrong way) for that. It’s also interesting to note that she’s grown up in a similar environment to the children, but copes and understands her children a lot less well than many of the other teachers who’ve attended Harrow, Charterhouse and any other pubic school you might like to name.
But let’s stick up for her for a minute. She suffers in class and can’t control her pupils, and therefore goes to her superiors to ask for help. Instead of offering help per se, they flag her as a ‘cause for concern’ after two months, they sit in her lessons, evaluate her, and then give her a long list of 20 or more places where she has to improve. In 30 days! I’m not quite what I make of the Teach First system, I’ve friends who’ve been through it and felt that they’ve probably made pretty good teachers (even if they say so themselves), while I also have friends who’ve been through the regular PGCE system and my guess is that they make equally good teachers. I would like to see a more creative, positive system of improvement for Meryl, one that highlights her strengths and gives her confidence to grow as a teacher in front of 30 unruly 16-year-olds. Anyway, I guess tonight’s episode is judgement time for her, and we’ll have to wait and see whether she gets thrown off the programme.
In this way, it’s also interesting to see that teaching is as much about behaviour management and controlling a class as it is about teaching pupils anything. Chloe, a second-year Teach First, and a natural, highly competent, teacher, who will hopefully go far with her teaching career, notes that it’s about understanding how pupils differ from one another, how they learn and how they choose to listen, and developing a set of strategies, appreciating that, while one set of strategies might work for one class, it might not for another and vice versa.