Secret Teacher: let’s tell student teachers what they’re really getting into

The week’s Secret Teacher, writing in the Guardian, suggests that when trainees ask whether it gets easier as time goes by they should be told that the teaching might, but the job doesn’t…

“Train as a teacher and within four years, you could be in management,” say the Department for Education (DfE), in an advert plastered across numerous stations on the London Underground.

As a mentor to a student teacher who is considering giving up, seeing this advert makes my blood pressure rise. I’d like to offer a contrasting view; the most positive thing in favour of the student teacher year is that it is good preparation for the reality of life in teaching, although it takes a few years to realise why. Trainee teachers are being conditioned to accept that teaching involves giving everything, but expecting no thanks in return, before they have sufficient perspective to realise how flawed the prevailing orthodoxies around them are.

They suffer from Ofsted pressure, without knowledge of its pernicious influence. At the start of my student’s placements this year, we were told that for the training provider to receive the Ofsted grade they wanted, we had to observe our trainees straight away and put them under pressure as soon as we felt they were not making progress.

Gone is the acceptance that making mistakes and learning from them is an integral and inevitable part of one’s trainee year, even for the very best teachers. And gone is the acceptance that everyone learns at different speeds. In their place is the implicit, and inevitably demoralising, suggestion that student teachers should be on a predestined path to perfection from day one.

They are being prepared to accept a workload resembling an attempt to run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. It is particularly dispiriting to see stressed student teachers taking work home after the caretakers kick them out into the night, before blaming and doubting themselves when their exhaustion catches up with them…

For those prospective trainees who do have altruistic aspirations, here is a more honest advert: “Expect to give everything for others’ careers and to be put under yet more pressure in return. Be prepared to sacrifice your health, happiness, social and family life for each short-term goal, but don’t ask when the pay-off comes. Expect to surrender your autonomy to arrogant yes-men who claim to understand the incredible complexities that lie at the heart of education. While you’re at it, you’ll owe £9,000 in tuition fees. Don’t even consider getting a part-time job. Move in with your parents, try not to think about the level of debt you’ll have to pay off and don’t, under any circumstances, go outside.”

This week’s secret teacher works in a secondary school in London.

More at: Secret Teacher: let’s tell student teachers what they’re really getting into

Do you agree with Secret Teacher’s somewhat pessimistic assessment (or could his/her alternative advert apple to pretty much some up any job in any professional area?). Please let us know what you think in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Teaching.


  1. forumeditor

    SchoolsImprove I agree with this. In fact, it’s even worse. In schools, the job is mostly not teaching but crowd control.

  2. MinoHedgehog

    SchoolsImprove moving piece. I feel the raw frustration of this obviously talented individual running ‘a marathon at a sprinter’s pace’.

  3. LadyChancer

    SchoolsImprove Bye bye social life during term time. Endless marking and paperwork. Being told by various people you get too many holidays.

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