The treatment of the tough young teachers on BBC Three’s new show Tough Young Teachers has been, well, tough. The premise of the show is that inspirational graduates, on the Teach First scheme, are sent into underprivileged schools to earn their stripes in battle after only six weeks training.
Our new teachers are an assorted bunch: Charles, appropriately likened to Alfie from Bad Education, who must grow a beard because without it he looks about twelve years old, by his own admission; Nicholas, another posh boy who takes a child shooting; Oliver, who has something akin to Murray about him and plays classical music at the start of every lesson in order to be consistent…; Claudenia, the cheeriest young teacher I find myself genuinely rooting for every lesson; and Meryl, who, upsettingly for everyone, is terrible at teaching. None of them hit the ground running, except maybe Claudenia, who promptly loses her feet and falls on her face by the second lesson. However, what they’re doing is not easy. Remember what an oik you were at school? And given you’re at St Andrews, you probably went to a rather nice private school in the home counties or Edinburgh.
The picture of teaching they paint looks like a Jackson Pollock, though they imagined a Rembrandt. Claudenia’s plan to engage the students with explosions and the “cool” parts of science only works for the year 7s, and before the first week is out she sits in tears in an empty lab, already a shell of the optimistic, naïve puppy she was. Charles is clearly scared shit-less by cocky fifteen-year-old, Caleb, who declares his lessons ‘bare moist’… Charles’ solution seems to be to send him out of almost every class. Nicholas and Oliver seem to fair better, since Oliver’s completely inability to handle failure drives him to actually be rather good. Then there is Meryl, dear, sweet, useless Meryl. We are perhaps the age group best placed to feel the real pain of Meryl’s predicament; the adults in us see that all her hopes and dreams are being crushed by insolent, unwilling students, but our school days were not so long ago that we’ve forgotten just how unfair and frustrating it is to be a student in the class of a bad teacher. It’s not just Meryl’s future at stake. On the whole, the show does well as an advert to warn off the wary from the profession. Take heed, graduates to be: weaklings need not apply.
The show is driven by the personalities of these teachers and their success or failure. As it stands, none of them are natural born teachers, but does such a thing exist? The show demonstrates some of the problems facing the education system – over-worked teachers teaching a lot of children who don’t want to be taught, in classes too big to control. But it also demonstrates the genuine enthusiasm and good nature of the young people that go into the profession, so let’s give them a break. After all, our careers centre is always telling us to consider teaching and for some of us arts students, there don’t seem many other agreeable options! So that desperate, terrified figure in front of 30 adolescents could be you in just a year or so… I imagine the second half of the series will vindicate the profession and the scheme, and our teachers will transform, butterfly-like from their cocoons of failures.
The series is only half way through and there’s plenty of room for improvement so we can expect great things. If you’re considering teaching, I advise watching it as an antidote to the mushiness of Educating Yorkshire and as a preliminary self-assessment. If you can’t handle watching it, you won’t handle the real deal. Moreover, it is television, so whatever happens will be wrapped up in ribbon and delivered in a carefully produced package. If you haven’t been watching already, the show airs on Thursday night on BBC 3 and is available on iplayer now.