Following my blog post on Droichead last week, I thought I might expand on my thoughts regarding an alternative solution to teacher probation. I want to first reiterate that I do believe the Teaching Council are correct in changing from the current model of inspectorate to a more internal mechanism and I have been involved in the consultations since the CEPP days. I also think the Teaching Council have done a wonderful job with the mentoring scheme through NIPT. However, I do not believe the current proposal is ready for pilot and I wish to propose this alternative.
I want to use the analogy of Droichead, the bridge. Below is a very rudimentary picture of what Droichead is trying to do: bridge the gap between teacher training college and working in a school.
The Teaching Council are correct in identifying that this bridge is flawed. There seems to be no link between completing teacher training and becoming a fully-probated teacher. Effectively, one is sent out to the solitary confines of a classroom and twice a year, an inspector comes into this room for half a day to judge whether the teacher is satisfactory or not, with little to no background knowledge of the journey this teacher has made. This is where the mentor comes in, but effectively, they are also working in a system where all the variables could go hopelessly wrong on the days of the visits or (possibly worse) very well. Even the least effective teacher has a party piece up their sleeve for the surprise visit of an inspector. The role of a mentoring team is definitely the way to go.
Any stable bridge needs a good capstone as it holds the whole bridge together. Using our image above, this capstone should be in the following position:
It requires both the college and the school to provide the other stepping stones on either side to keep the bridge up. The current Droichead proposal, which is being piloted in a number of schools, does not resemble the image above in any way. It appears that colleges have simply extended teaching practice to 10 weeks (rather than 5) and little else. Schools, on the other hand, are taking on the rest of the work. Our bridge’s capstone, in my opinion, seems to be in the following position.
I feel I am being generous in the image above and felt tempted to place the capstone one space further right. As any budding bridge builder will know, this bridge has little hope of staying up. In order to get to some sort of equilibrium, we need to think about how teacher training colleges provide more of a role in the probation of their trainees and we need to think about ways to incentivise schools to take part.
My solution marries a major issue in primary schools with an incentive scheme to counteract it. My solution involves changing the final year of teacher training. My solution removes the need for controversial programmes such as JobBridge being used for the purposes of getting probation. My solution, I believe, is also incredibly simple and can be summed up thus:
The final year of teacher training should be spent fully in a primary classroom.
Here is how I propose it would work.
A school is trained up in mentoring and is accredited by the Teaching Council as a “university school” (or something similar). This school takes on a final year trainee to be a full-time teacher in the school. This trainee is fully responsible for this class including all long term and short term planning. He/she must set up the classroom, establish the rules and do everything a fully-qualified teacher would do.
The teacher that is displaced by this trainee would be their mentor. This mentor would be responsible for working with this trainee for this final year. Their training would have enabled them to appraise and monitor their trainee teacher. They would be available to model lessons, help with planning and generally any other day to day things that would be required. The mentor would be part of a team, consisting of a link lecturer from the teacher training college who would be available for advice. This link lecturer would have to visit the school a minimum of two times in the year with the final visit a signing off on probation of the trainee as a fully probated teacher. In order to ensure quality control occurs, the Teaching Council would have a panel that would randomly select schools to meet with the trainee, mentor and link lecturer to make sure everything was kosher.
The advantage of a system like this is that a trainee would get a full classroom experience whilst still in college, with the support of his/her lecturers and tutors. He/she would also have the support of a trained and experienced mentor.
For the mentor, he/she will have a full year to work with and develop the trainee. The obvious question to ask is does a trainee need that much support and the answer is no. However, this becomes the incentive for schools to take part, particularly principals, who in effect will most likely be the ones asked to do the probationary process. It gives teaching principals the opportunity to get the admin days they so desperately require. Effectively, if you take on a trainee, for the times that they are not required in the classroom, they are free for administrative duties.
For a college, it gives them a more genuine scenario to assess their trainees. The current model where teaching practice changed from 5 weeks to 10 weeks makes very little difference to the artificial nature of teaching practice. In this model, the classroom is not the trainees, the planning is not the trainees and the pupils know that the trainee isn’t their teacher. With my proposed model, the trainee is the teacher from the get go and every responsibility that comes with it.
For me, this moves the capstone on my bridge firmly in the centre. It gives colleges a more genuine experience for their trainees, it provides an incentive for schools to take on these trainees and it gives a much more balanced probation for everyone. After the probation year, the school is under no obligation to employ the trainee but the trainee is fully probated and ready for any schools to take him/her on.
This, of course, is only my opinion and I’m sure it’s one of many out there. For me, the only problem with my model is that it will cost money and it will give colleges more responsibility for their students. I don’t see either of these issues as any reason not to follow my model but I assume various agencies would not like this. In my opinion, the current pilot has too many variables that render it unworkable. The capstone needs to shift before I’m getting on board.