Rob Leitch is a secondary school teacher.
As key figures in education and politics continue to wage a fiery ideological battle over unqualified teachers, I have been sitting squarely on the fence, aware of both my Tory principles…and my own newly qualified teaching status.
Taking a step back from the heat of battle would, I suspect, lead to a more common sense resolution of the dispute over unqualified teachers. Having taught as an unqualified teacher myself some years ago, before returning to teaching and acquiring qualified teacher status (QTS) more recently, a pretty crucial truth seems to have been ignored throughout the raucous of the debate thus far. Put bluntly, you cannot train anyone to be a teacher – blindingly obvious, but a central starting point to any inquiry into the suitable qualification of individuals in this profession.
To be considered to be an ‘outstanding teacher’, one has to demonstrate evidence of reaching the higher echelons of the eight teaching standards. On paper, and with enough guidance and support, it is possible that anyone could indeed achieve this. However, in reality, teachers are observed inside the classroom and in front of dozens of students who can, frankly, make the best laid plans redundant within seconds of a lesson commencing. In essence, there are few professions in which the difference between theory and practice are so far removed. Whilst frequently frustrating for teachers, this unpredictability actually acts as a safeguard in terms of overall teaching practice.
The realities of teaching are such that teachers require more than a certain qualification or background. The very best teachers are those who are able to make a connection in the classroom with young people. No training course or qualification can substitute for the extra ingredient that successful teachers require – a teaching ‘X Factor’ if you like; you either have it or you don’t.
Well-intentioned individuals who have a wonderful (and truly impressive) knowledge of pedagogy can soon find that their detailed understanding of the core learning theories from Vygotsky to Piaget can become wholly irrelevant if they cannot practically create an effective and stimulating learning environment in the first instance.
As such, parents, voters and politicians should breathe a little easier in this over-heated debate. The profoundly simple truth is that some unqualified teachers won’t be able to step up to the mark and deliver when faced with a full timetable of demanding classes. Yet, the same will transpire for every new cohort of freshly qualified teachers too.
The nature of teaching is demanding, fast-paced, transparent, utterly rewarding and completely unpredictable. The end product of these rather bizarre features leads to a very natural system of checks and balances in which all teachers will ultimately be judged. Whether we are qualified or unqualified, this system is demanding enough to separate those who can teach from those who frankly shouldn’t – perhaps we should all begin to trust in it a little bit more?