The Truth About Teach First-ers – Beat the myths!

Recently, I have spent a lot of time trying to assimilate county NQT protocol with the demands of the TF programme and expectations within the school. The conclusion that I have drawn is that not many people ACTUALLY know what a TF participant is and what we do.

You’re just like any other trainee/NQT, right?
For those of you that don’t know, we teach an up-to-80% timetable from day one after 6 weeks of intense training. We have two mentors in school and two mentors from our university. The idea is that we will very quickly learn to swim because we are “high achievers”… Or at least that’s what people say. In my experience, minus a few hiccups along the way, we have no choice but to swim because we would drown if we didn’t… Not because we are super human.

Moreover, we get our PGCE whilst teaching…Therefore, we often teach all term and write essays all holidays… Madness! Nonetheless, it does mean that we are just like any other PGCE student apart from the fact the distinct majority of our experience is in one school and we have a lot more teaching experience by the end of the year.

Ah, so you’re a “high achiever” coming in to make us all look bad/make out you’re superior to everyone else?
No… And I do genuinely apologise on behalf of anyone associated with TF who has ever implied this. I have observed many Twitter arguments where members of staff who have taught for ages and (often) followed the traditional PGCE route into teaching feel like TF are there to imply they’re rubbish. This is not the case.

HOWEVER, TF does focus upon schools where many students are disadvantaged in some way. These schools COINCIDENTLY sometimes tend to be the requires improvement/special measures schools where teaching and learning is slated. Nonetheless, in my school and many TF schools I know, their issue is not necessarily the current members of staff in those schools (these tend to be the unsung hero worker bees who hold the school together), it is that they cannot hire and retain good teachers. Thus, when someone leaves, the school is often left plugging the gap a good teacher left. This is often where TF comes in.

So you’re saying that my school should hand over classes to someone who has minimal training and minimal experience…? Surely that’s harmful to the kids?
What’s more harmful? Giving a class a supply teacher or non-subject specialist for a year or giving them a fresh trainee who specialise in their subject and will not rest until everything is perfect?
Yes, they’re new and naive. Yes, they are bound to make mistakes. Yes, maybe a teacher with 20 years worth of experience and a glowing exam result track record may be “better” for the kids…at least in the short term. However, independent research (possibly IOE? Can’t remember the source… I’m sure I can find it if you’d like!) has found that TF trainees have no impact on the students. This is a strange piece of data. However, it is oddly positive. The study found that the students were no better or worse off with a TF trainee in terms of results than with a “real” teacher. Moreover, from personal experience, I believe that TF trainees can generally have a great impact on students in terms of percentages of students reaching their targets.

We have a solid team around us who come running whenever we call in a flap. Moreover, we have dedicated, free, regular CPD on the topics that directly help student learning. Finally, TF research has found that something close to only 10% of participants do not get good or outstanding in their PGCE observation grades (yes, they’re still graded…)… And, of that 90%, it is roughly 45% of each.
Therefore, whilst you may see us bumbling through at the start and whilst there may be a few TFers who are not making progress, generally, we’re okay!

So you’re a whizz who we should be holding to high account?
Yes and no…
Generally, we like to be pushed. However, if we do well in an observation (for example), please do give us a pat on the back otherwise we will spend that evening picking it apart to identify how it could’ve been improved. Nonetheless, once we’ve given you a small smile for the pat on the back, our minds will flick back to the job in hand and how to get even better next time and so on.

This is both a good and bad thing. Please keep in mind that we’re actually only trainees and, so, we do not know everything. Therefore, when setting us targets etc, please be aware that we should only really be graded as compared to a typical trainee, not a qualified teacher. Nonetheless, if I am anything to go by, I would like to know what else I need to do to hit that step up ASAP.

Moreover, as an NQT, I want to keep being stretched. My school is great as they have given me the freedom to get experience in all the areas I would like so that, when the times comes, I can start applying for more and/or swiftly work through performance management. However, this is a tricky path to follow because my mentors and SLT know what I am doing and why but other members of staff can sometimes come across as a bit sceptical that I’m not even fully qualified and I’m hosting CPD on various bits and pieces. Therefore, for the record, I know of no TF trainees who want to actively clamber over colleagues to reach up the ladder. Personally, my department (for example) is great and I have learnt a lot from them. Thus, I would never want to put anyone’s nose out of joint. Nonetheless, it is a direct part of the second year of our two year “Leadership & Development” programme (2 year training) to have to gain leadership experience. Therefore, we’d fail if we just sat back and chilled…Seeing as we have had access to CPD on the newest pedagogy, why not work with us?

But surely not everyone who goes through TF can be great?
No, certainly not… As shown by the stats above.
Nonetheless, the participants I know who did not do so well last year were often in schools where the capacity for good mentoring and support was not there. Moreover, some of the participants were simply not strong enough to handle the sink-or-swim pressure. However, in my experience, you get out as much as you put in due to the fact that TF wants you to succeed. Therefore, realistically, whatever you need, TF can provide. For example, some schools link up to provide extra support and/or TF calls in consultants.

If you know of a TFer who is struggling, it is often simply that they haven’t accessed the support available. Give them the nudge!

Finally, what’s this about a 2 year course? Surely we can’t have teachers jumping ship afterwards?!
We are in a 2 year contract and do not HAVE to stay longer. TF does have a steady stream of participants going off into the City. Nonetheless, a higher proportion of participants who leave after the 2 years go into education-related careers – for example: working for TF, setting up charities or working with the Government.
Furthermore, what is the difference between a fully-qualified, good teacher coming to a school for two years and then moving away and a TFer moving away? Of course, ideally all TFers would stay and offer that long term stability to students. However, that would be an impracticality and I know that (personally) I would prefer to be taught by a great teacher for two years than a supply teacher/non specialist.

Hopefully this has answered any questions and dispelled any myths. The bottom line is that the majority of TFers are hard workers with a drive for continued self-improvement and continually want to help their school community for the benefit of the kids. Surely that’s not too far off how you’d describe yourself?

Please drop me a comment below or follow me on Twitter @miss_trainee 🙂


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