While ’walking the Mersey’ yesterday (not quite walking the Nile, I appreciate, but my personal lockdown challenge!) I bumped into two of my former student teachers from at least 15 years ago. My children will complain that this is a regular occurrence because I have worked in Teacher Education in Liverpool for about 20 years. Both were still friends and teaching locally, one now a Head of Department, one still married to the English trainee she met on her PGCE. It was great to catch up. Our conversation reminded me of the vital connections forged during initial teacher training, and of the ways in which they help to sustain teachers over the course of their careers. Many of my former students are still in touch. Their teaching careers have taken them all over the world. Some are now school-based mentors for our new student teachers, and I am proud to say that some are now colleagues, and part of our Initial Teacher Education team at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).
Working with new teachers is invigorating; my staff are motivated by their promise, enthusiasm, and their absolute commitment to successfully supporting all learners. The resilience required of student teachers has of course been particularly highlighted this year. In spite of the challenge’s schools have faced, thanks to the continued commitment of our family of Partnership schools, over 600 LJMU Primary or Secondary student teachers, on both Postgraduate and Undergraduate Teacher Education Programmes, have continued to attend school placements (often on a full-time basis).
During “lockdown”, 50 % of our Secondary Student Teachers and 90% of our Primary Student Teachers remained in schools, teaching vulnerable children and the children of key workers. 95% of Secondary student teachers and 60% of primary student teachers also taught classes remotely, from their own homes. Now that schools are returning to full opening, LJMU trainee teachers are supporting the re-integration of all learners to schools. The adaptability of this cohort of student teachers, and their contribution to sustaining LJMU Partner schools’ education plans, over a difficult period, have both been commended by our Head Teachers across the North West. The pandemic has truly underlined that Teacher Education is all about Partnership. Despite all the extra work that teachers have faced, an astonishing 99% of our trainees have reported that their school-based mentoring experiences are high quality. We are proud that our trainees have repaid this support by playing as full a role as possible in their school communities.
Universities are important and valued hubs in the national network of all Initial Teacher Education programmes. Hubs are proliferating in Education, but the role of Universities as hubs is often overlooked and deserves to be celebrated. Like many other ITE providers, as well as recruiting our own students, we enjoy working with students from our ten School Direct Lead School consortia and our SCITT partners. Relationships across our networks are strong and mutually beneficial; there is strength in diversity and in collaboration. We share and develop knowledge together, respectfully harnessing the strengths that each partner acknowledges in the other.
Together, during this pandemic year, we will have produced a uniquely skilled cohort of Newly Qualified Teachers. Having dealt creatively with the requirements of both face to face and on-line learning, they will be able to play a crucial role in the blended post-pandemic educational future. But more importantly, they will have witnessed at first-hand the central civic role that schools play in the communities they serve and the strength of the profession when it pulls together. These are the kind of teachers that are needed, and the ones that I am proud to have played a part in developing over two decades in Initial Teacher Education. There are some things that a “market review” cannot quantify: relationships, respect, resourcefulness, reciprocal support. I hope that, wherever I’m travelling in future, I continue to bump into long-serving, happy, ex-trainees, whose teaching careers have been able to grow and to flourish, thanks to the solid foundations established by those who supported and developed them during their Initial Teacher Education.