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Time travelling teacher trainees: advice from the experts

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Date published 15 December 2023

Last updated 21 March 2024

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Teacher training is the first step on your path to becoming an excellent teacher who will inspire the next generation to succeed.

We’ve asked some current and former teachers to revisit their time as trainees. They discuss specialising in a subject, the benefits of practicing what you learn, and having access to evidenced learning materials.

Some of these teachers now work at Ambition. Our team of national experts collectively bring decades of experience in teacher training, from first-hand teaching experience, to running their own successful schools, and creating training programmes for new teachers.

We pour this expertise into our own Teacher Training course. Our programme is designed by teachers for teachers, with trainee experience at its heart.

Here is what our time travellers had to say.

Matthew Barker, secondary school history teacher, Bennett Memorial Diocesan School

Working in a social environment

History teacher Matt Barker graduated from university and started his teacher training straight away.

Coming out of university, he says one thing that appealed to him most about teaching was the ability to work and interact with others on the job.

“I always liked history, so the idea of doing a job that involved that made sense. It also suited my personality quite well. I wanted a job where I could be social and be talking to people all the time.”

Learning in the context of your subject

Matt trained on an employment-based route with Ambition Teacher Training partner Teach Kent and Sussex, learning to teach history on the job. After completing the course he accepted a job offer from them to teach history, remaining in his school as an early career teacher.

This subject-specific learning allowed him to develop his passion for history.

“Often, I’m teaching things that I had never learnt before. There’s a lot of history, and you can’t study it all! I’ve learnt so much in my year and a half being a teacher, because you need to learn new things and start teaching them quickly. I feel like my knowledge of history is a lot better because of teaching."

“It’s a different way of getting into history, but the passion is still there, and hopefully that comes across in the lesson.”

Researching pupil learning

Having access to evidence-informed materials is key to your development when training to be a teacher.

Matt says the most beneficial piece of research he explored whilst training was about the way pupils think and learn.

“One of the most important things I learnt was around pupils’ mental models, particularly how they learn, the science behind that, and the importance of considering that when planning lessons.

“I had never really gone into teaching from a psychological point of view or thought about what’s going on in a pupil’s brain. So that was a big piece of research that has stuck with me.”

Teaching and leading are highly complex tasks. It can be hard to figure out what makes effective teaching. Ambition supports teachers and leaders by providing them with ideas from research that will help them bypass trial and error.

Timekeeping and prioritising

If Matt could go back and give his past self some advice on teacher training, he would remind himself about the importance of prioritisation.

“I’d say be mindful about how much time you spend time on things and prioritise. That’s something I’ve got a lot better at. Knowing what to spend an hour on, what to spend half an hour on, and what you can leave for another day. It’s such a busy job, and it’s so different to university. There is always something on the to-do list.”

On the Ambition programme if you’re training to teach at at secondary level, at least 50% of your weekly modules will focus on your chosen secondary subject, providing an excellent opportunity for you to develop your expertise in teaching this subject.

If you're training in a primary school, your weekly modules will focus on various subjects, helping you to develop your subject-specific expertise across the full breadth of the primary curriculum.

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Catherine Anderson, Ambition Institute Teacher Training fellow and former assistant headteacher

After three years studying music at university, Ambition Fellow Catherine Anderson did a PGCE course with primary and modern foreign languages.

Her favourite times as a teacher were the magic moments when her pupils grasped a new idea.

“It's that lightbulb moment that makes you realise the impact you are having as a teacher. You can spend days, sometimes weeks, working through something with children. When they get it, it's amazing.”

The power of rehearsal

When asked what piece of development stood out to her as a trainee, Catherine emphasises how much she gained from rehearsing what she learnt.

“I was being observed by the deputy head. She pulled me to one side, and suddenly I felt a bit panicked. She said, ‘this is a really good lesson, would you like me to show you how to make it outstanding?’ and that always sticks in my mind.”

“I learnt so much from watching somebody else demonstrate something live in the moment. I think with our programme there's so much opportunity to observe and learn from other practitioners and I think that is so valuable.”

At Ambition, we strongly believe in rehearsing what you’ve learnt on-the-job. That’s why our programme blends academic study with practical application. This means everything you learn will be modelled, practised, and planned with your mentor before you bring it to life in the classroom.

Training within the context of specialist settings

Having worked in a school with a large proportion of pupils with additional needs, Catherine would have liked her teacher training to have had a greater emphasis on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.

“It would have been useful to have a broader understanding of different methods or strategies that can help and support children both with and without SEND and think about it in a more holistic way rather than as an add on.

“That’s what is so great about Ambition’s Teacher Training programme. The message that we are giving to our trainees is that children have lots of different needs. This programme is designed to help trainees meet those different needs”.

Amarbeer Singh Gill, Ambition tutor and former secondary maths teacher

“I finished university and wanted to have a job where I could help people, where I was actively involved in their growth.

“My dad was a teacher, and my granddad was a teacher, so it ran in the family and has been a bit of a family tradition. I wanted to carry that on. I got some work experience as a teaching assistant in my old school where I went as a child.”

Amarbeer taught maths for four years, followed by three years running his department’s professional development and helping trainee teachers.

Evidence-informed learning

For Amarbeer, having access to the latest research played a pivotal role in his development as a teacher. If he could go back and give himself one piece of advice, it would be to take a more measured approach to applying educational research in his practice.

“Previously the way I consumed and applied research was very scattergun. I would think, ‘that looks good, let me try it’. Now I take a much more considered and nuanced approach.

"I think a big issue in teaching generally, but specifically when you're training, is it's hard to know what works and what doesn't.

“Engaging in the research and using evidence to make changes to my teaching takes an element of that away - I don't have to worry as much about what to do, because there's plenty of research showing that it benefits learning, instead I can focus on how to do it, making sure I'm implementing it in the right way and with fidelity.”

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