The most valuable lesson of teacher training during Covid has been the importance of practising what you teach, writes Amber Smith
Term 2 of teacher training and my placement is completely online at this point. I am only able to observe classes, and progress towards teaching is made infinitely harder by the fact that my future students are not happy, smiling faces behind desks but names on black squares in a video conferencing app. They’re mostly silent, except of course when you really need them to be (“Can you mute your mic, please?”). That said, their teacher is doing a fantastic job keeping learning happening.
Then there’s the difficulty of setting exercises when you don’t know who has access to what materials. Sure, anyone who has completed a SCITT programme knows it’s a challenge. When I signed up for mine as a career changer last year I knew that would be the case. Naively perhaps, what I didn’t account for was the added test of completing my training during a pandemic.
I began my art and design teacher training with Leicestershire Secondary SCITT in September. It wasn’t long before I became aware of the implications of the timing. Schools were fully reopened at the time, of course, but local infection rates meant blended learning was already the norm rather than the exception. Given the pressures schools were under, how the course leaders even managed to get us all on to school placements with only a week lost to Covid alterations seems a miracle to me.
Organisation is rapidly becoming a vital part of my skillset
Organisation is rapidly becoming a vital part of my skillset, but it’ll take some doing to match that. Still, it’s evident I’m learning from the best – not just the course leaders, but our trainers too. The first of our two placements was relatively normal; we had to deal with the same adjustments as all other teachers. But since everything was new to us at that point, things were much harder for our mentors than for anyone else.
And yet, in spite of everything, my experience has been an ideal introduction into the career. My teacher educator didn’t miss a step, quickly pushing me into leading lessons with an admirable level of support and patience. A key lesson for me is that, when it comes to habits of, and behaviours for, learning, you have to practise what you teach. The school and the SCITT are both glowing examples of what it means to be in education: helping people, changing lives and providing a safe space for all.
So as I sit remotely observing remote learning, I’m not focused on what I’ve lost. To be sure, this year has been hard and the path ahead remains uncertain. We missed out on opportunities to see special schools and on primary placements. Some of the safety protocols have made teaching difficult and some of our PGCE assignments have had to change last minute. Moving on to our second placements in full lockdown was a whole new level of challenge.
But I have added so many new skills to my repertoire in quick succession. I am a visualiser wizard and my IT skills are growing daily. I’ve learned the importance of community and parental engagement in a way I could never forget. I’ve observed excellent teaching in the classroom and online. I’ve had a chance to practise both and watched experienced and highly effective teachers continue to learn and grow themselves.
Training to teach during Covid is not a hardship; it’s a privilege. And it’s not just teachers’ care and commitment that’s been so enthusing. Teenagers’ ability to keep laughing given everything that’s been thrown at them is too.
The future is even more uncertain for them. The impacts of the pandemic on this generation of young people will not be fully understood for a very long time. For now though, and while they remain at school, they will have at their side perhaps the most determined and most resilient generation of NQTs there has ever been.