Trainee teachers get a raw deal



Does a medical student get to work on a patient/diagnose a patient for the first time unsupervised?

Does a trainee mechanic get to work on the brakes of a car for the first time unsupervised?

So why is a trainee teacher who is on teacher practice in a classroom, usually unsupervised?

Because the main teacher has buggered off, that’s why.
Sooner or later the Department of Education will have to clamp down on this, and we as professional teachers will have to toe the line. Now some of us spend this time productively, while more of us use it to have an extended coffee break, or if we get lucky we can even leave the school early or arrive late in the morning.

In fact if we plan it out properly in advance we can even give ourselves the day off.

Point is, this shouldn’t happen. In a training hospital there is an understanding that the ‘master’ doctor (isn’t ‘master’ a horrible term – or am I just too PC?) assumes responsibility for the trainee; shows him (or her) the ropes, and gradually exposes the trainee to a greater level of responsibility. Why do we get away with not doing this?
Yes of course I am generalising, but does anybody even know to what extent? Do some schools have a policy on this?

The temptation is often to give the trainee teacher a transition-year class and the rationale may be publicly that it is unfair to an exam class to expose them to a new teacher, which certainly seems reasonable, but then a transition-year class is always going to be more difficult to motivate – and discipline (could this add to the attraction of ‘fobbing it off’ onto a hidip?). So if we are sticking a new teacher with this class, the onus should be on me as the main teacher to remain in the class at all times.

It does create a slightly artificial atmosphere, but what I have found is that most of the time the students quickly forget about the teacher at the back, and just get on with on it. If the trainee-teacher has problems controling the class this will soon become obvious, with or without another teacher at the back.

Isn’t there also an insurance issue with leaving an unqualified teacher to run a practical session in a lab?

This brings up a second issue.
Why are these trainee teachers teaching classes at all?
Wouldn’t they be better off observing as many teachers as possible to critique the different teaching styles? After all, they can be ‘blooded’ at any stage but chances are they will never again have the opportunity to sit in on a colleague’s classes. I’m arrogant enough to think that a new teacher could learn something from observing my teaching style; maybe it’s only how not to teach a class – but that’s still a valuable lesson that otherwise may never be learnt.
A colleague of mine is hoping to initiate a group of like-minded teachers who are prepared to let colleagues sit in on their classes, but purely from a timetable point of view it may prove unfeasible.

At least it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

It’s almost 40 years since we first put a man on the moon.
Is it possible to create a space/forum/platform for teachers to discuss these issues?
How would we respond?

Some cool science resources

Just got back from wonderful New Zealand yesterday and came across some of these impressive deals.

Digital calipers from aldi for €10, available from Sunday 13th (checkout blowtorch available also for €10). Why would anyone use the old-fashioned vernier calipers when you these cut out all the confusion. Ideal for ‘measuring the resistivity of wire’ experiment.


Dynamo torches from lidl for €10, available from Monday 14th. Use them at Junior Cert as an examle of energy conversions, and at Leaving Cert for demonstrating Electromagnetic Induction. I haven’t bought one yet but hopefully they can be taken apart to see the internal workings.

VHS to DVD converter for €168 from Maplin (Maplin doesn’t have an Irish website for some reason, but they do issue newsletters with their special deals). If, like me, you have a bank of VHS cassettes with numerous programs on each cassette, then is the ideal way to start afresh. This time around I use one DVD per program, and use an elecrtronic labeller (which I also got from lidl) to label each DVD. Our science department got one of these a couple of years ago but I reckon it was probably twice the price.
Maplin also currently have Infrared Thermometers for €33 and multimeters for €8 (I would check that ‘crocodile leads’ fit into these sockets before buying).

I was thrilled to see that Maplin have started stocking educational products from mutr. So many so-called ‘Science Toys’ that you see in toyshops look fantastic but are actually crap. Mutr (middlesex university teaching ressources) on the other hand are the business; I’m not even sure they do it for profit, certainly many of their products are unique and very reasonably priced.
Get your Christmas shopping done early this year

Do you teach a modern language? If so subscribe to Joe Dale now!



There are a whole lot of education blogs out there, but one of the very best has to be Joe Dale’s “Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom“. He gave a presentation at the CESI conference this year and people had to be turned away at the door.

Every subject needs to have a Joe Dale; someone to keep us up to date on best practice in relation to ICT issues, and who you know is a full-time teacher who practices what he preaches.

Here’s my contibution to the ‘Modern Language’ database:
Eddie Izzard – Learning French

‘Course you can’t show this wonderful clip unless you have Youtube.
Don’t mention the war

Is there an equivalent Science / Physics Teacher blog out there?
Patricia Donaghy has done her part; is a registration page for educational blogs where you can go and search by topic.

I guess over time more teachers will get the hang of this sharing lark.


Ten Great Ideas

Been thinking about my previous posting.

What are the ten great ideas in Science that we don’t emphasise?

The average student remembers bugger-all about science, but if we were told there were ten things that a student had to remember, what would they be?

1. Kinetic Theory – Everything is made up of atoms and vibrate at temperatures above -273 degrees Celsius.

2. Evolution

 3. Global Warming

4. Each atom is 99.9999% empty, and so therefore all objects which appear solid are almost completely empty space.

5. Deep Time: The age of the universe, the age of the Earth, the age of first life, and the age of humans

6. Science does not offer Absolute Proof

7. Fundamental Attribution Theory: Humans are genetically hard-wired to apportion blame for our own mistakes to others while wishing to take the credit for achievements which are outside our control.

8. Quantum Theory

9. What Science doesn’t know

10. Mass Extinctions

Where does the ‘stuff’ in trees come from? is an interesting site which “uses media and telecommunications to advance excellent teaching in American schools.”

One of the issues they address is the area of misconceptions in Science.
This is a wonderful video which asks where does the material that makes up trees come from.

College graduates from Harvard and MIT were asked and not one of them gave the correct answer. In fact their answers were very similar to those given by six year olds.

It makes us question what other serious misconceptions we are responsible for, and leads us to question what and why we are teaching.

If we put together the ten most important ideas in science, how many of them are emphasised in our science courses?

College students answering these questions kicks in at about the 8-minute mark.

A primary school kid gets a look at solid air (dry ice) at 53:20. The look on his face is worth waiting for.

The video is 1:21 long. Access it here

quiz with a difference

Saw this recently in a physics education journal (IOP Classroom Physics).
I’m probably the last person to have come across this, but still . . .

When giving a quiz why not give the answers and have the troops figure out the questions?
It gets them thinking, as opposed to simply vomiting back up the facts they learned off the night before.
Here are some sample questions / answers for junior cert magnetism:

1. Iron, cobalt and nickel
Which elements are magnetic?

2. They repel each other
What do two north poles or two south poles do when they are near each other?
3. It lines up with the magnetic field
What does a magnetic compass do?

4. A region of space where a magnetic material experiences a force
What is a magnetic field?

5. Increasing the number of coils on an iron core
How could you increase the strength of an electromagnet?

6. Away from the north pole and towards the south pole
Which way does a compass needle point when near a magnet?

7. You end up with two smaller magnets
What happens when you break a magnet in half?