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Some thoughts for new student teachers

  Having gained a host of new followers on Twitter, who are either completing PGDE, or other student teacher qualifications, got me thinking about the advice, thoughts, comments I would give to those embarking on their own professional learning journey. 

 It is heart-warming to see, and hear, the enthusiasm of new entrants into the profession. They are passionate about their career path, and are constantly enthusing about the high quality input they are receiving from lecturers, professors of education and practitioners. My first piece of advice would to use those feelings as a touchstone, to go back to and revisit, throughout your career, but especially when you are facing challenges. Teaching is one of the most satisfying and rewarding professions to be involved in, but throughout your career you will encounter a myriad of challenges, and during these times it is often worth your while reminding yourself of why you came into the profession, and re-consider your early enthusiasms. 

 What else would I say to student teachers? These are in no particular order of importance, but I think they all are worth thinking about at the outset of your career, as well as during you career. 

 What are your values and principles, as an educator and as a person? You need to consider these and how you are going to sustain, and develop them, throughout your career. Values are evidenced by your actions, not your words. You can judge a person by what they do, not on what they say they are going to do. Maya Angelou said, 'When people show you what they are, believe them the first time.' In any career, living by your values and principles can be challenging at times, perhaps even more so in education. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do, but it isn't always easy. Education systems remain stubbornly hierarchical, therefore picking the right fights then acting in a professional and ethical way can alleviate some of difficulties you may encounter. 

 I would say to every young, or older, teacher entering the profession, it is not your job or role to maintain the status quo. Rather it is expected that you will challenge a lot of what you see, to bring about improvements for learners, families and communities. A lot of what happens in education systems discriminates against, and is unfair, to many sections of society, often those already disadvantaged in other ways. Again, forget the rhetoric and look at what people do, and how the system is acted out. If you have come into education to make a difference, this will be hampered if you feel unable or unwilling to challenge some of the characteristics to be found within the system. Systems are made up of people, and you are going to be one of those people. For systems to change people have to change their thinking and their practice. We need new thinking and new practice.

 You have probably just begun your teacher education and may be feeling a little swamped by all that you are being asked to read, listen to, and think about. Good, that is part of becoming a professional, and you will have good people round you to give you help and support. But, when your course is successfully completed and you start as an NQT, the reading and expectation around continuous professional education remains. You need to keep reading, keep engaging and keep thinking throughout your career. No career stands still, certainly none in education. What you have to learn is how to engage critically with all that your read or are told throughout your career. You are not a technician or a deliverer of something, you are a thinking professional, and need to act accordingly. 

John Dewey said in 1895 'It is ...advisable that the teacher should understand, and even be able to criticise, the general principles upon which the whole education system is formed and administered. he is not like a private soldier in an army, expected to merely obey, or like a cog in a wheel, expected merely to respond to and transmit external energy; he must be an intelligent medium of action.' We still have some way to go to achieve all that Dewey proposed 125 years ago! Mark Priestley at Stirling University recently echoed some of Dewey's thoughts, stating that 'we don't need milkmen', merely delivering something someone else has given them.

 By the way, you will never know it all! 

 Do not fear 'not knowing!' For many years education has been full of people keeping quiet, or pretending, because they didn't really understand something that was being presented to them. There was a culture that  viewed teachers, and headteachers, as people who knew everything and understood everything. I wish! Get used to asking questions and probing in order to better understand. Seek clarifications, explanations, particularly when people use phrases like 'research shows.' What research? Who's research? Critically engage with lecturers and practitioners, it is only through this will you deepen your understandings, to help you develop and improve your practice. 

 Dylan Wiliam has said 'Everything works somewhere, but nothing works everywhere.' Context, personal and professional, is key to shaping your practice and your thinking. 

 Beware of thinking in bubbles. There is a lot of talk about 'bubbles' at the moment, linked to Covid arrangements. But there are also 'bubbles' of practice and thinking we can slip in to. You may think your experience of University and your course is the same as everyone else's. It won't be. We come back to context, and people. each context is unique, as is each person's. I was forever saying to teachers, 'don't think what goes on in your school, goes on in every other school.' That applies to both excellent practice, and the downright awful. Behaviours and practice are shaped by a myriad of factors, and these are different in every context. Therefore avoid slipping into thinking 'it has to be this way' or 'its like this everywhere.' It won't be. 

 One of my final points is to remind you to always act professionally, even when others might fail to do so. None of the above is easy to achieve, and all of it presents challenges. But, if you act professionally with colleagues and all others you come into contact with, you are more likely to be respected, as well as to take the right decisions. You will be building up a professional support network of people who will be there to help you when times get tough. (and they will!) Commit to building networks, and not only of people who think the same as yourselves, because the bigger the network the greater the support for your own development, as well as your ability to support others. Immediate colleagues can be supportive in tough times, and I cannot over-emphasise of the establishment of strong, mutually-supportive relationships.

 Everything you will face as a teacher, problems you face, successes you have, are enhanced or improved by a healthy support network. You cannot do it all on your own, but you can deal with most things when part of a supportive network. Social Media can help you extend those networks of support, but remember to use them responsibly and professionally. There are lots of people out there willing to help and support but, as with any group in society, there are some who act as no more than trolls. Use the block button, if you need to.

 John Carnochan, who used to head up the Police Scotland Violence Reduction Unit , is fond of saying, 'Whatever the issue, the answer is relationships.' I agree with him. 

 Good luck on your particular journey into the profession. Accept the challenges, but remember to have fun. Teaching should never become a 24-7 job, and doesn't need to be. Keep a balance in your life, and prioritise your own health and well-being. You are less able to support learners and colleagues if you fail to take care of yourself. The person that has most responsibility for your well-being is you! 

 Have fun, and keep in touch!


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