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Applying for Teacher Training II

Because this was sat in my drafts for the last year, I published it in July 2018 and set its date to a week after the previous one.
Last time I hinted at how time-consuming it is to apply for teacher training (tl;dr: it’s not that bad, but I’m glad I wasn’t trying to do this with a conventional full-time job) and said a little about how a prospective trainee can avoid being too much of a safeguarding hassle.
This time it’s more about why it’s time consuming, namely observation.

Observation

All the training providers I spoke to asked for ‘at least’ 5-10 days of recent classroom observation in your target age group. I think this is mainly so that you can be sure that you want to teach (and you can convince training providers that you’re sure you want to teach), but it also provides good discussion material so that those interviewing you for training places can try to judge what kind of teacher you might become.

Finding Opportunities

In a way, it’s a little disappointing that it’s not easier to find opportunities to observe, given that there may or may not be a staffing crisis going on*, particularly for me in a shortage subject. On the other hand, I’m sensing a common theme that while individual teachers are often friendly, helpful and generous with their time, the system as a whole is suffering from their collective lack of time, and from the normal inefficiencies of asking busy people to jury-rig something rather than budgeting for a decent system in advance.
* There’s a staffing problem; some call it a crisis, some don’t, some call it a crisis but make it clear they’re not supposed to call it a crisis.

‘Get Into Teaching’

Given that observation is a universal requirement, clearly there should be a central effort to make sure it’s accessible to everyone. Cue Get Into Teaching, who in this respect I found worse than useless.
When I first looked seriously at teaching as a [third?] career, around April or May 2016, I phoned them to join the ‘programme’ to find observation places. I was told that they were only helping applicants for the next year (2016 start), and that I should call back in October. In October I went to a training provider’s open evening, and realised my mistake: applications were opening in a week’s time, most people had already done plenty of observation, and some subjects (thankfully not mine) required applications ASAP and places would be full by Christmas.
Suddenly I was feeling a long way behind on my application.
By this stage the observation placement programme still isn’t ready, and I eventually got the impression that it didn’t run that year. Certainly I had to make my own arrangements, with the help of representatives of two teaching schools networks.
I like the phrase ‘teaching school’. “Aren’t they all teaching schools?” I hear you** cry. Well, yes, so you can either assume that all these education professionals are just into tautology and there’s no difference between a ‘teaching school’ and the regular kind, or you can assume it must mean something, at which point it’s pretty obvious what.
** Probably not ‘you’, kind reader, but people with more self-assurance than self-awareness.

What To Do

Check the Get Into Teaching website. There’ll be advice there, and you should read it just in case. If you’re planning to train in a shortage subject (you’ll have to check the current list) then they might assign you an adviser, to help you get smoothly through the system. Mine was very helpful.
I was advised to contact the school I attended, since I have an existing relationship with them. This is probably better advice for new graduates, who were last in that school 3-6 years ago. My relationship with my school has lain dormant for 20 years; they probably don’t still have any of the same staff, they have none of the same buildings (having moved site and demolished the old one). Suffice to say they never responded.
What was successful for me was getting in touch with local training providers. (This worked especially well because I was set on school-centred training and those providers are embedded in schools, but with any luck the education department*** of your preferred university will have some contacts.) The people I met at an open evening were able to put me in touch with the maths departments at two different schools, between which I was able to get my 5 days done in time for an application.
*** Note that due to the naming  conventions of universities, that ‘department’ of your preferred university may well be called ‘School of Education’. I liked that, too.
That said, try to get 10 days. Not only will it continue to improve your perception of the profession (and hence your certainty that you want to be in it), but it’ll make for a stronger application; more impressive on paper and with more examples for interview.
If you’ve got the time (both time to spend in the classroom, and enough notice to get a DBS check done) you could even see if a school is interested in you volunteering to do something useful; you can observe while you’re there and be less burden on them.

Observe Well

For my initial five days I just watched things. I’m pretty observant when I want to be, but without really knowing what to look for I just noticed relatively obvious things.
The first offer I got (and only, after one rejection and without waiting for the other to invite to interview) was conditional on five days more observation. Thankfully they specified the school, which immediately roped the maths department into putting up with me, but more importantly meant that I was supervised by my teacher mentor, already assigned for next year.
He gave me a big list of prompts, broken up into a different topic each day, challenging me to observe and think about particular things. It was incredibly helpful: having barely learned enough to get through an interview after five days, the next five actually helped me start understanding what goes into good teaching.
So if you can, not only do at least ten days rather than five, but see if you can get that kind of guidance. You can’t really expect it of the supervising teachers unless they have a vested interest (like you’re going to be their trainee), but maybe you know other teachers. Probably there’s something useful online, but I didn’t look for it yet.

Name of author

Name: Matthew