3 reasons to have trainee teachers, and how to manage them

You’d think that you could get the best results (however measured) by having only experienced staff to teach ICT, and that managing a trainee teacher would be a diversion. But my experience, as well as a consideration of principles, suggests to me that such a view is mistaken.

Trainee teachers tend to read a lot about the job. Photo by Jerry Bunkers http://www.flickr.com/photos/76266195@N08/

New blood, new ideas

Trainee teachers, being new to the school, usually have some good ideas. To an extent, this should be true of any new addition to the staff, but for reasons outlined below it tends to be more apparent in new teachers. Put simply, they don’t come with a lot of cynical baggage, and they have no idea of, or in interest in, the “office politics” of the school. What they do tend to have in abundance is enthusiasm: for the job, for the kids and to try things out.

A different (and refreshing) perspective

Trainee teachers are currently actively thinking about the theory and practice of teaching. Maybe established teachers such as yourself are doing so as well, but probably not to the same extent or with the same sense of urgency – after all, you don’t need to pass any teaching qualification test. (In any case, the fact that you read blogs like this probably means you're not typical, but then I don't know how many teachers read blogs like this.) If you wish to check out my theory for yourself, have a look at the blogs by Plymouth students. These are both incisive and thought-provoking; I trust that the thinking that goes into their writing is not atypical (though I think the act of writing a blog is). 

(Almost) risk-free experimentation

Some of the ideas suggested by a trainee teacher may be a bit outlandish, but as long as they don’t put students in danger, what’s the problem? In the worst case scenario, the kids would get a dud lesson, and would have to make up for it somehow. But in my opinion it’s a risk worth taking because the potential benefits are pretty high: engaged students, and maybe even reinvigorated current teachers.

Interestingly, in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he reports on the somewhat counter-intuitive finding that First Officers on aeroplanes tend to have fewer plane crashes than the Captain. How come? Because if the captain is making a mistake, the First Officer feels reluctant to point it out because of the seniority issue, whereas when the roles are reversed the First Officer benefits from the captain’s experience as well as the being told when s/he is going wrong. I wonder if the same sort of thing pertains in teaching?

Managing trainee teachers

Here are my suggestions for managing a trainee teacher:

  • Assign the direct management role to another member of your team, if you have a team. This will be good for that teacher, because it provides useful management experience. It also means that you can have the trainee kept on track in a less threatening way than if you managed them directly, because the person you ask to take on the task can say things like “Oh, I don’t think Terry would like the kids to just chat to their friends in the last ten minutes of the lesson”.
  • Include them in the decision-making process in team meetings.
  • Ask them to give a presentation (say for ten minutes) to others teaching ICT, about their ideas or something they’ve tried or research they’ve carried out.
  • Observe them teaching...
  • ... But don't pull them apart afterwards. The primary school approach of "three stars and a wish" is pretty good in my opinion, though perhaps expressed in more adult terms!
  • Make sure they observe you and other experts in action -- and discuss that lesson with them afterwards as well.

Some of the best teaching I’ve seen, not just in ICT of course, has come from trainee teachers. They may take up some of your time, but regard that as an investment rather than a burden.