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Inducting new teachers into their professional communities

Published on 03/05/19

Teacher education in England is a complex field which can leave potential teachers somewhat perplexed.

I am however firmly of the belief that, despite this complexity, there is some kind of consensus concerning the idea that teacher education is about inducting a new teacher into a variety of professional communities.

It is not difficult to find criticisms of teacher education. From one direction come the complaints that teacher education is not sufficiently practical, that the basic skills are not systematically taught, and that there is a need for a clearer curriculum for teacher education as might be found in some other professions. In contrast, we also hear that teaching cannot be about learning a set of techniques, as each subject and each phase (indeed, each school) have their own peculiarities and differences which makes a ‘one size fits all’ approach inappropriate.

When we sat down in 2017 to design a new School Centred Initial Teacher Training programme these were some of the issues we faced. We did not want a course that focused predominantly on generic techniques, yet nor did we want our trainees having to ‘work it out for themselves’. The answer, we decided, was to place the emphasis on teacher education as induction into professional communities. 

Teachers are not droids, but thinking and feeling professionals who operate as part of several communities. These professional communities are complex and overlap in interesting ways, and might concern the subject being taught, the phase being taught, the locality in which a teacher works and wider national and international networks of teachers. Communities are sustained by shared knowledge and values, and it is important that a trainee comes to understand what those are so that they can engage with these during their professional life. This means reading widely what other teachers have written, understanding where a consensus has been reached and where the fault lines of disagreement lie.

There are no easy answers in education and no short-cuts to the goals we aspire to achieve. As professionals, we need to make intellectual and ethical decisions about our curriculum, our approaches to teaching it, how we assess our pupils, and a myriad of other things. No two teachers will think alike, and it is therefore important to be constructively critical: to be willing to offer alternative points of view, and to compromise on your ideas if it moves us along as a professional community. A well-equipped new teacher joins the profession as an active participant in that community, rather than a passive receiver of the latest ideas.

The Inspiration Trust SCITT is at the beginning of its journey in addressing these principles. Over the last eight months I have seen new teachers draw on the ideas of the history education community to design long-term plans for Key Stage 3, use their knowledge of approaches to the teaching of mathematics at Key Stage 2 to critique a commercial product, and debate the extent to which schools can be asked to compensate for the problems in society. I am currently enjoying seeing all of our trainees embark on their research project where they have each chosen to focus on an issue they have encountered in the classroom which is a ‘live’ matter in their community and worthy of further consideration. I remain impressed at the level of their thought about these issues, and I hope that some will go on to contribute their ideas more widely through writing (whether blogs or more formal publication) and participation in debate (whether online or in more traditional settings).

It is, in the end, this kind of participation in our various communities that will ensure our profession has a vibrant future.

  • Michael Fordham is Inspiration Trust's director of initial teacher training