Tough Young Teachers, BBC3 - TV review: Rookie teachers are a class act, but they've got a lot to learn
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Friday 10 January 2014
To borrow a phrase from the Year 10s at Archbishop Lanfranc School in Croydon, south London, Mr Wallendahl's RE lessons are "well moist". I'm not sure of the exact definition of "moist" in this context, but I think we can assume it's not a good thing.
It's not Mr Wallendahl's fault his lessons are so moist, though. It's just that he benefited from one British education system – the kind you get at prep school, Charterhouse and then Oxford, the kind where students have calm home lives and abundant future opportunities – and he doesn't yet understand the other. That's the British education system that takes place in crumbling schools and over-crowded classrooms, where teachers struggle to enthuse pupils who often have more pressing concerns than their GCSE coursework.
Mr Wallendahl is one of the titular six in Tough Young Teachers, BBC3's engaging but bleak new documentary series about Teach First, a social enterprise programme which gives high-flying graduates training in struggling schools. In other words, very inexperienced teachers are plonked straight in the front of a classroom full of children who are poised to pounce on any sign of weakness: "They stand out in a crowd," said one particularly shark-like rascal. "They sort of give off a nervous energy."
He was right, they did. Ms Noronha, for instance, believed she'll get a 100 per cent GCSE pass rate from her English class, until she discovered that some of them can't spell four-letter words. Business studies teacher Mr Beach clutched a well-thumbed copy of Teach Like a Champion, but it counted for nothing when he arrived in class on his first day to find the computer wouldn't start.
Science teacher Ms Williams looked like the brightest hope. The Year 7s were so delighted with her gas-igniting experiment, they burst into applause. But, as she soon found out, Year 7s are easy; it's the Year 9s you've got to worry about.
You can't help but root for them, though they are in turns exasperatingly naive and inspiringly dedicated. It's the pupils, however, who really need support. Let's hope these young teachers toughen up fast, for all our sakes.
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