Tough Young Teachers: Episode 2

V/O: The catch – they’ve had just six weeks training ….

The set-up of this show is really starting to annoy me. It is like the Great British Bake Off without the cakes: it’s part competition, part trial, with the prize presumably physical and emotional survival and (almost as a side issue) qualification as a teacher. Teach First is described as ‘the UK’s toughest graduate programme’ (I wondered what a junior doctor in A&E would think of that) and the six ‘tough young teachers’ are presented as people struggling on their own to seek the prize.

Teach First continued to come across badly in this episode simply through their absence. In trying to work out what to do to succeed, the six teachers and their young colleagues talk among themselves. They seek advice from other recent graduates in schools. Interventions seem to take place mainly by senior school staff and they concentrate (unfortunately I would say) on simply feeding back on lessons they have seen rather than coaching the trainees or planning specific opportunities for them to practice something or to teach collaboratively. One piece of feedback by a headteacher involved telling one of the trainees to change her accent and pronunciation, avoiding glottal stops. Not very helpful in the scheme of things given the trainee couldn’t keep the classroom safe. One might argue that the occasional bit of estuary English might have helped.

There was some very good footage of Nick, the Maths trainee at Harefield Academy, though. Nick has so clearly got it. He understands – and is able to articulate – teachers’ responsibilities to engage students, to capture their attention, to communicate with them, and draw them into doing something really worthwhile academically. I found his humility and his faith very touching and I was also grateful that, unlike the others, he hadn’t gone for teeth whitening before the shoot.

He held detentions like the other Teach Firsters but we saw Nick using the opportunity to talk to a child and to tell him that he cared about him. He was beaten at chess by this boy in the detention – perhaps allowed himself to be beaten? He was self-deprecating, clearly human, quietly spoken, thoughtful. He knew how to build relationships and to exercise leadership and so had a really good basis for actually doing some good teaching. A benefit of his own expensive private schooling?

There was an interesting contrast with one of the other trainees holding a detention, during which she played Justin Bieber, it seemed, just to annoy the students. One boy came out saying: ‘She’s a mental.’ With all due respect, I could see his point.

But I was a bit troubled by the filming of the students, particularly Caleb (and I am hoping that is a pseudonym). Ethically, exposing someone aged 14 to criticism by viewers of a reality TV show is questionable. Caleb’s angry, tearful monologue to camera after a telling off by a deputy head was worrying.

And business studies trainee Ollie, in a toilet, weeping, writing a song. Oh, dear me …

My main question after watching this episode was whether Teach First was regretting taking part? It is starting to come across as exploitative – of the kids as well as the trainees. I am sure they will have their press and PR people on to that.

 Picture credit: BBC3