Fast teachers

News of more acceleration in schools – only this time it’s the teachers who are being sped up. The British government today announced that in future “able candidates” can train to become teachers in just six months instead of the traditional one year.

The aim is to attract clever people who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn, especially in the financial sector. Said one government minister: “We know there are a lot of fantastic mathematicians, for example, who would have once perhaps gone into the City but now actually might be more interested in a career in teaching.”

But is this the right way to beef up the teaching ranks? I’m not so sure. Teaching is a hard job and the best teachers have a real vocation: that’s why they put up with low salaries, pushy parents and red tape.

Can we expect the same from those who colonize the classroom because they can no longer make absurdly inflated wages in the financial sector? And what happens when the economy rebounds and the City starts hiring again? How many of the fast-tracked teachers will choose to stay in the classroom?

Even if they do stay, I’m not convinced that halving the time devoted to teacher training is a good thing, even for bright candidates with lots of life experience. Just imagine if we did the same for surgeons, pilots or dentists. Learning a craft takes time. If anything, countries like Britain should be investing more energy in teacher training.

Just look at Finland. By any yardstick, it has one of most successful education systems in the world. Competition for teacher training is fierce in Finland, and those who make the cut study for five years before qualifying. Yes, five years.

Finnish teachers are so well trained that the nation holds them in high regard and trusts them to do well by its children. That means instead of dealing with endless inspections, assessments and bureaucracy, they can get down to the most important job of all: teaching.

I suppose the one benefit of speed-training teachers is that we’ll know very soon whether it works or not. My guess is that it proves to be another false economy.