Monday, 23 July 2012

The downside of Teach First

Once again our university campus is full to the brim of bright young things attending the Summer Institute of Teach First. Most people will know that this is a programme which recruits well qualified, recent graduates to teach in a range of deprived schools for a couple of years before most of them go on to more lucrative careers outside of education. It is currently flavour of the month with Government, not least because the bulk of the training of these "teachers" takes place in the schools who employ them, with only a 6 week lead in period in universities. (Don't be fooled into thinking that this is a cheaper way to train high quality teachers - in a previous blog entry, I reviewed the figures which suggest that the Teach First route is actually more than twice as expensive per teacher as the normal PGCE route.) The figures suggest that only around 40% of those initially trained via Teach First actually remain teaching in schools beyond the two year initial period they are committed to. Yet this route is lauded by government as THE way of recruiting high calibre graduates into the profession (the more obvious solution to this problem - paying teachers higher salaries - is, for some reason, not considered to be as effective!)

It is within this context that I came across the contribution below from an American elementary school student who has clearly experienced the US equivalent of Teach First, Teach for America. This item appeared in the American satirical web site, The Onion -,28803/

Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?

By Brandon Mendez, James Miller Elementary School Student
You've got to be kidding me. How does this keep happening? I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don't have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn't know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? That would be terrific.
Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don't think it's too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn't desperately trying to prove to herself that she's a good person.
I'm not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I'm an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won't get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.
How about a person who can actually teach me math for a change? Boy, wouldn't that be a novel concept!
I fully understand that our nation is currently facing an extreme shortage of teachers and that we all have to make do with what we can get. But does that really mean we have to be stuck with some privileged college grad who completed a five-week training program and now wants to document every single moment of her life-changing year on a Tumblr?
For crying out loud, we're not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends.
Look, we all get it. Underprivileged children occasionally say some really sad things that open your eyes and make you feel as though you've grown as a person, but this is my actual education we're talking about here. Graduating high school is the only way for me to get out of the malignant cycle of poverty endemic to my neighborhood and to many other impoverished neighborhoods throughout the United States. I can't afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone's inspirational narrative.
But hey, how much can I really know, anyway? I haven't had an actual teacher in three years.


Of course, I think we all realise that this piece was not actually written by Brandon himself!
If he could reason things out so well, there would clearly be little wrong with the educational experience he had had! Yet the key point remains here. Teach for America, and Teach First, can simply be seen as worthy ways of enriching the CVs of bright young things straight from university, AT THE EXPENSE of the children from deprived schools who actually need the best teachers teaching them, not a succession of raw recruits. Teach First is not the answer to the teacher supply problem - it actually exacerbates it, by siphoning off valuable funds and personnel which could otherwise be used to make a real difference to kids in our challenging schools.