Next week marks the start of a new reality TV programme about teaching, focusing on the lives of some Teach First graduates as they embark on their new career, which is now being recognised in the wider media as a tough job. Perhaps this perception is one of the biggest triumphs of Teach First – as the largest recruiter of graduates from Oxbridge, there seems to have been a slight shift in perception away from ‘teachers as dossers’ to a ‘warriors on the frontline’ mentality in the middle class population as a whole. Maybe when your baby leaves university to become a teacher you start to reframe your view of the profession.
When I graduated and became a teacher, I found that a great many of my fellow teachers were also the first in their families to have ever attended university. For us, teachers were the only graduates we had ever met and so to become one was aspirational. Among my wider friendship groups, kids whose parents or whose parents’ friends had been graduates and had become among other things, lawyers, doctors or writers, were less likely to become teachers. I think Teach First may be changing that view slightly and that can be no bad thing.
But there are some significant problems with Teach First, not least of all with the name. First before what? Before something better? Something more lucrative? While the retention rate for Teach First is not much worse than other routes, TF is an expensive training route. And what worries me more is that unlike the people who leave from other routes, some TF graduates seem to deem themselves experts in education after this short experience and move into positions of consultancy or commentary on the basis of a very limited view of teaching. We see Teach First graduates writing books on teaching and learning for Civitas, advising academy chains, advising on the setting up of free schools, writing books on all that is wrong with education, all that is right with Teach First and so on….and none of them are still teaching. None of these bright, brilliant young things are affecting the lives of children any more. And if they’re that damned good, they should be – isn’t that what Teach First was for?
If I was in government it might suit me to encourage and support a young, temporary workforce. To put them in areas of teacher shortage, keep them mobile, use their energy before they have families and become fixed and then replace them before they get expensive and build up pension pots. It might suit me to replace the profession with short term rapid response units who won’t feel the need to be unionised because they won’t be in it for long enough. It would suit me to encourage them to support current government policy in return for a nice little advisory job at the end and to feed these voices to the media as ‘authentic’ teachers. It would suit me very much.
But I’m not in government, I’m in teaching. And it doesn’t suit children to be taught by teachers who have one eye on the next job. I want to have both eyes on this job. To be tantric is to be ‘woven together’. This weaving is complex. It involves the threading together of knowledge of children, knowledge of subject, knowledge of self. It requires patience, waiting, watching, adapting, thinking. It requires love. It’s a long haul flight – not for the flighty. So while I recognise that Teach First has brought some benefits, I conclude that I’d rather Teach Forever.