Guest writer: Rebecca Curtis, Principal of Ark Elvin Academy

Rebecca reflects on the development of teacher training and her experience of working with Now Teachers.

These are challenging times for schools: recruitment is difficult, funding is tight and schools are the frontline of many of the social issues in society today. And yet despite this, I believe that now is the most exciting time to be in education.

We know more about teaching and how to improve it than ever before. We know more about cognitive science and how children learn, and it’s directly improving what’s happening in our classrooms. There has been a professionalization of teacher training and I think that this professional development (not just in the first two years but throughout a teacher’s career) is world class. We’ve become incredibly geeky about what it takes to make a great teacher.

I see a real blossoming around curriculum - there’s so much more talk around subject specialism and curriculum than there was when I started teaching over 20 years ago. Now we invest a huge amount of time and energy in to co-planning and developing the curriculum together as groups of teachers.

More and more schools are doing incredible things in really challenging circumstances – results are improving and young people in areas that have previously been poorly served by the education sector, are now beginning to make great progress. It inspires me every day.

Training Now Teachers

The school I lead serves a disadvantaged community. It sits on the site of a formerly failing school - you only need to search for Copland School and you’ll see some of our chequered history. Now, 75% of children have English as an additional language and many of them arrived in this country over the last 5 years. I believe we’ve created a very happy, hardworking and stable environment - a space that really welcomes everyone.

We’ve had four Now Teachers at various different stages of their training, and I’ve really welcomed having them in our community and in our workforce. One of the things that has been important to me is diversity amongst our teachers, and a range of ages is a great sign of this. I think it’s great for our pupils to meet people who they would never meet before. They love hearing the stories about Now Teachers previous lives and the different things that they’ve done.

I’ll be absolutely honest and say that our Now Teachers have found it hard. As a cohort, they have probably taken a bit longer to improve their teaching than some of the other trainee teachers, but they are a worthwhile investment. The right people to do this are committed to being teachers long term and really developing their craft - and I’m committed to developing them as well.

What it takes

There are some core skills and elements that I look for when I’m interviewing a Now Teacher.  First of all, you really do need to think about this and know that it is something you want to do. It’s no good turning up on the first day and feeling like a deer caught in headlights. The motivation for making this change is essential.

You need bucket loads of humility. You are going to be rubbish at teaching when you start. You are going to get the most candid feedback and it’s going to feel really personal. There’s nothing quite like 30 thirteen year olds laughing at you, and that really happens. So you have to bring that humility to the table, you have to relish feedback and then you have to apply it in your next lesson.

Some of my Now Teachers have said it’s been quite a shift to go from running a huge company or being a director, to then suddenly being the smallest fish in the school and receiving feedback from someone who could be younger than their own children. 

The most rewarding job

This is an opportunity to do a really amazing piece of work. At my school we are taking children with no English all the way to the top universities. We are transforming young people’s life chances.

I do genuinely believe that this is the best profession and that teaching is the most rewarding job. I’ve never done anything else so maybe others know better, but I wake up every single day excited about what’s in store for me. I’ve never had a day when I haven’t felt like that.

There are low points and all sorts of things have happened in my career but I’ve always looked forward to being inside those classrooms, walking those corridors and being with the children that we serve. If this resonates for you, then Now Teach may be what you’re looking for.

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