The power of personality

September 21, 2001

Will the government's plan to require further education tutors to have a teaching certificate raise standards? Jane Ayres is sceptical.

The government's resolve to introduce compulsory teaching certificates for further education lecturers has made qualifications synonymous with quality. It is no longer enough to be an expert in your field: granted, that never guaranteed good teaching, but neither does completing a professional teaching qualification.

It will not ensure a tutor's ability to engage and motivate a mixed bunch of young adults with varying levels of maturity, or to handle their lateness, laziness or lack of self-discipline.

This will largely depend on teaching style, which in turn develops from personality. To be a good teacher, you have to like people. If you have not got the right personality to teach, then no amount of training will change that.

Higher education has tended to rely on a tutor's expertise in their subject rather than on teaching experience. This method is based on the assumption that students are there because they want to learn. So a teaching qualification used to be more of a luxury than a necessity. Tutors would not expect to have to deal with discipline problems, such as disruptive students.

Further education is different. It can be a gateway to higher education. With about 3.7 million students enrolled at colleges in 1999-2000 compared with 1.7 million at higher education institutions, it seems strange that further education is still the poor relation.

Having spent many years visiting schools, promoting opportunities at their local colleges, I frequently encounter staff who believe further education colleges are for the less academically bright, more practically minded students. There is a reluctance to tell pupils they can take A levels outside a school environment.

So, will compulsory teaching qualifications help deal with the next generation of students?

Yvonne Mackenzie, who teaches English at a South London further education college, is not so sure. "I think teaching is a skill you can learn but teacher training is only a start - you learn a lot more from doing it."

Julian Broughton, who teaches music to adult learners in Sussex, says: "You need to give your students respect. But in taking on the role of tutor you have to lead. I want the best for my students and give a lot of emotional energy, which can be draining."

Achieving a balance between giving too much emotional energy or not enough can be tricky. Jan Woodhouse, a part-time tutor and counsellor, says: "I think this is where a sense of boundaries is important - knowing how to be flexible enough to meet the occasion without losing authenticity."

Mackenzie adds: "It is important to maintain professional boundaries and to be clear about your expectations. Have firm rules and stick to them, but remain open to negotiation."

A tutor can pass on enthusiasm and passion. Lectures should be structured, but also allow for spontaneity. The best teachers are also mentors. They care about students as individuals.

Steve Carley runs Project X, which provides innovative music and arts courses for young people. He says: "Genuinely caring and wanting to do your best for your students is the sign of a good teacher."

To quote David Minton from Teaching Skills in Further and Adult Education (City and Guilds/Macmillan): "There is no limit to the fascination of people. That is the great joy of teaching."

So if there has to be a compulsory qualification for teaching staff, one in human psychology might be more appropriate.

Jane Ayres teaches in a school and a further education college.

PCET: aims, methods and content

The postgraduate certificate in education qualifies the holder to teach anyone over 16.

It is offered full time (two 15-week semesters) and part time (over at least two years, but this is available only to those already teaching). There is no final exam. Assessment is based on coursework and teaching practice.

The certificate covers the following: 

* Classroom skills

* Preparing materials and aids

* Developing teaching and learning methods

* Managing time

* Developing a broad theoretical base

* Working in teams

* Managing groups.

Tutorial support is provided in the methods of teaching specialist subjects (for example, business studies, social sciences, foreign languages, design and so on).

Students are encouraged to study a second subject to help maximise their employment opportunities.

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