Should TeachFirst add a pre-service year? (And post-programme support?)

Justin “Juice” Fong – Head of Internal Communications at TeachForAmerica (TFA) – yesterday wrote a blog describing upcoming changes at TFA and making his own suggestion for the future.

The changes should interest people in England because they echo concerns raised before about TFA’s sister organisation, TeachFirst.

As Juice explains TFA is making two big changes:

  • Introducing a ‘pre-service’ year for applicants applying to the programme while at university, and
  • Extending classroom support to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th year participants as part of a drive to keep more people in the classroom

The pre-service year will allow undergraduates to take part in a year-long preparation programme while still at university. The details of how, where, what they will do are still to be knocked out, and it is certainly won’t be mandatory, but it signals TFA’s seriousness about ensuring participants hit the ground running, especially younger and more inexperienced ones.

The extended classroom support seems less interesting for TeachFirst, as its participants have always had second year, and some later year support. BUT a constant nag about TeachFirst is that its name somehow suggests it promotes people leaving after the two year programme is complete. (“TeachFirst, BankerNext, HAHAHA” is perpetually heard by anyone taking the programme. It’s not funny the first time. By the fifty-third time, it’s soul destroying.)

TFA does not suffer the same moniker problem, but its participants are accused of leaving the classroom early. As are TeachFirsters (whether they do or not is actually disputable). But as Fong says, the extended support that TFA is providing might start to disrupt that notion. He states: Teach For America aims to remove the mental breakpoint of two years and instead say to its teachers, “Stay in the classroom. The organization is set up to continue to support you in the classroom for the next several years.”

As mentioned, TeachFirst  has always provided second year support, and there certainly used to be a lot of provision for year 3 onwards. In my subsequent years I coached participants, taught at summer institute, took part in school visits, attended policy meetings, and so on. Those experiences developed my classroom skills and kept my learning thirst quenched.

As the organisation has grown it has been more difficult to keep a handle on opportunities, and I know it’s something that is still being fiddled with and reworked. Which is why I am interested in TFA’s move. They are being quite decisive about focusing on a reduction in retention and are making a specific statement of what will be offered. I don’t know if TeachFirst would be in a position to do something similar soon, I’m not even sure they might want to or should do it. After all, TF cannot do everything and it might be that their limited resources are best off served doing other things.

But I think it’s a positive sign from TFA, and I am glad they are trying to keep more teachers in the classroom. If nothing else, TeachFirst should watch the results with interest.

Awww...This is from the days before my Michael Gove worrylines.

Awww…This is from the days before my Michael Gove worrylines.

9 thoughts on “Should TeachFirst add a pre-service year? (And post-programme support?)

  1. I think that the retention issue is more relevant for TF. Initially, it annoyed me that people would attack TF on these grounds (especially since the attack oftentimes came from others who had left the profession). I would argue that if someone did leave the classroom to become a banker, or a lawyer, or an accountant or whatever, they would at least have first hand knowledge of what it was like for the bottom three deciles of the socio-economic pile. This, in turn, would help to ‘infect’ the most affluent with an understanding of the complex barriers and challenges facing those from low-income backgrounds, and dispel the ‘scroungers’ myth, or the idea that poor kids just aren’t trying hard enough.

    However, I think that people on the TF programme may have a moral commitment to remain involved in education longer than those who have undertaken alternative training routes. There are two reasons. First, TF participants get given a free PGCE. It has been well noted that Teach First is a relatively expensive way to train graduates. IF you have paid for your own qualification, it’s up to you what you do with it. If the state has paid for it, you surely have an obligation to use if for the good of the country. The second reason is that graduates on the programme are signing up not just to teach, but to change the educational landscape, to ensure that ‘no child’s socio-economic background limits their educational success’. I am not saying that this aim is unique to TF, indeed I am sure that it is a goal shared by all teachers, but signing up to TF is an explicit commitment to addressing this full on. Teaching for two years then leaving the educational world completely is an abandonment of this commitment.

    1. Hi Jon
      I just want to say that I agree that there is more of a sense of ‘duty’, or at least there ought to be, among those (like myself) who have taken the TeachFirst route on a free PGCE. Perhaps TF, perhaps correctly, think that that idea of a time-limited obligation would be a turn-off for dreamy-eyed ‘world is my oyster’ undergraduates. I think it would be a good thing.

      1. Interesting move from TFA – I’m not sure what their current pre-summer school (SI) requirements are so it’s hard to compare. I do have an idea about TF’s.

        Participants coming onto the programme do have a reasonably considerable workload to take on before they start the summer school – they must spend time in a school which is structured (see this, follow that kid, go to this etc) with an extensive reflective activity which is submitted on day one of SI. They must address the feedback given to them through their subject knowledge audit. They have the option of attending a number of events where a variety of educational issues are discussed and they begin to reflect on the world in which they are about to enter. I’m also pretty sure that they have now introduced reading linked to SI topics with activities to be completed (Pre-Course Work or something it’s called).

        All in all, on top of finals (which many are completing at this time) and on top of the variety of things most do to get onto the programme (various uni to school link programmes etc) I think it’s pretty good. It’s a myth to think that they come in fresh on day one. Could this be improved – I’m sure it could. Will TF be looking at it – I’m sure they are.

        On the point about staying beyond the two years I’m not sure that I agree with Jon or any move to prefer one route to improving outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged young people over another. For me, TF works for one simple reason – it creates a great balance between altruism and self-interest. In order to attract the best and brightest this delicate balance must be protected. Support those who are staying – absolutely – and again TF have great package called Teach On (I think that’s still what it’s called). But say that doing anything else is less worthwhile or lower impact. No, why, because it might not be.

  2. Laura – have been talking to an independent sector organisation this week who are looking into introducing a ‘Teach Now’ model where graduates apply to teach in an independent school for two years – supported by an HEI and leading to PGCE/QTS which will qualify them to teach in either the independent or state sectors after that. Interesting…..

      1. Still at an early stage of development, but I don’t think there’s an expectation it will be subsidised. Will see if I can find out. Am not involved in it – just aware it’s being discussed.

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