Once again, and to nobody’s great surprise, Michael Gove has announced another ill-considered and absurd attack on the nation’s teachers. Now, in his infinite wisdom he has declared that anyone can teach in his academies without a relevant teaching qualification. Mere life experience and expertise will be enough. But where does this leave me as I prepare to embark on my PGCE year?
Firstly, I concede that experience and expertise are important. I’m almost 33 years old and have plenty of ‘life experience’ (I actually cringed as I wrote that) and relevant work experience having performed various training, coaching and management jobs over a varied career. More important than any of that, however, is the two years I’ve just spent working in a school. With young people. And teachers. And a national curriculum.
Assuming that being a genius in your field enables you to teach is plainly wrong. It’s the same wrong-headed attitude that sees those with first class honours degrees awarded three times the training salaries of their 2:1 toting contemporaries. The misguided assumption is that the better you are at something, the better you’ll be able to transfer that knowledge to your young charges. Anyone with opposable thumbs and a modicum of commonsense could point out that this is utter horseshit. The way that message is conveyed, the ability to relate to young people and making that learning memorable so that it sticks is what’s important. You don’t need to know string theory to teach kids GCSE physics. But you do need to inspire them and interest them in the subject – knowledge alone is not enough.
Without having yet embarked upon my course, I know that I’ll spend hours observing existing teachers, taking their advice, looking at the theory behind education and managing a classroom, coping with different behaviours, differentiating by task and outcome, setting learning objectives, continually assessing my students, applying my subject knowledge to the syllabus and correcting any gaps or weaknesses, absorbing the atmosphere of a school and countless other tasks, exercises and activities designed to raise my skill levels and my pupils’ attainment. Presumably Gove sees no value in any of this, instead preferring to assume that my knowledge of my subject will seep by osmosis into every child I come into contact with?
I took a huge risk to leave a well paid career behind and work as a teaching assistant for two years (scraping by on less than £8000 a year). I’m now committed to a further year of study which will cost me £9000 in fees and will see my existing student loan debt swell beyond comprehension. I did these things because I needed to do them to follow this path, because I felt they would put me ahead of my contemporaries and because they were requirements of the job. I made sacrifices that I deemed to be worthwhile because I really, really want to teach English.
Now, it seems I may have wasted my time. I could’ve wandered into one of Gove’s academies, given a whizz-bang interview and been hired thanks largely to my charisma and fancy-talk. Of course, as soon as I entered a classroom full of kids who weren’t interested in me and didn’t share my enthusiasm for Simon Armitage and subordinate clauses, I’d have been up Excrement Creek without the required rowing implement.
What Gove stupidly assumes is that anyone can wander into a classroom and teach. They can’t. It is an art, a skill and a profession. Teachers are not knowledge-boxes to be tapped. Kids have got Wikipedia for that. They are not lecturers or key-note speakers. I’ve spent two years sitting in English lessons, have taught plenty of my own and have read dozens of highly regarded books on the art of teaching. But I am not a teacher. I am not ready to be one yet. I cannot do the job properly until I have been trained appropriately. For Gove to assume that just anyone can walk in from whatever sphere, and can do this complicated, demanding job is an insult to all educators, prospective teachers and, worst of all, our children.