Shades of things to come

24th October 1997, 1:00am


Shades of things to come
On the eve of their first teaching practice, students from Brunel University share their thoughts with James Williams

How do pupils always manage to spot the student teacher? Do they wear a big sign on their back? Have they got an invisible tatto on their forehead, which only school children can see? Or is it that they show signs of fear and tredpidation when faced with 30 expectant faces all waiting to be taught?

In the next few weeks, thousands of students around the country will be taking their first steps towards being a teacher. For some it will be the realisation of a dream held from a young age, for others it could turn into an ordeal. But there are some basic tips which could make the difference between failing your initial teaching experience or passing relatively unscathed.

Students from the school of education at Brunel University share some common concerns about the prospect of being in charge of a class and entrusted with the pupils' education in a subject. While discipline and being able to maintain an orderly learning atmosphere are mentioned as a concern, other fears the students express relate to the negative image of teachers, and the teaching itself.

"What concerns me" says Peri Coelho, a science student "is the ambivalent attitude of society towards teaching. It promotes teaching as one of its pillars, making great demands of teachers and heaping responsibility on them, but it also denigrates teachers by rewarding them poorly."

This is echoed by Ali Burns, a modern foreign languages student: "My main fear is of being disappointed with the reality of teaching. At this stage I have a very positive vision of what it will be like and I do not wish to become a disillusioned, cynical and demotivated teacher. It was the only job I wanted to do; but I was advised to do something else first. After my degree I got a job as a project manager but realised that was not my vocation. I left and did a course in teaching English as a foreign language and taught in France for a couple of months. I have a romantic idea of teaching as something that contributes to society, putting something back into the system."

Chris Smith, a geography student who came through the independent education system, had some initial worries over his school placement. "Mixed schools are new to me," he says "I helped out at a boys' independent school as a coach while I was doing my degree. This will be my first experience of a non-independent school. I was worried that I would not be placed in a school I could adapt to and become part of." Having visited his placement school, Chris says: "I needn't have worried. All the staff are very supportive and I think it's going to be great. It's a big school, more than 2,000 pupils. The geography department is similar to the one that I did my GCSE and A-levels in. It's very well resourced, but the classes are bigger than in my independent school."

Doreen Lawson, also a geography student, was educated in the West Indies. She is a firm believer in education being a partnership between parents and the teacher. "I see the school as an extension of the home and we have to work together. I think it is wrong to expect teachers to do everything."

Caroline Brown, a design and technology student, had a positive first impression of her teaching practice school: "I was surrounded by a friendly atmosphere, beautiful grounds, small classes and well- behaved pupils. It was almost perfect." Caroline became interested in teachintg after working as a special needs assistant. Eventually she would like to go into educational psychology and work with special needs pupils.

"My background is in computing and psychology. Being a special needs assistant was extremly rewarding. I expect being a teacher will be just as rewarding, perhaps even better."

Hannah Jeffreys, a maths student, aims to denounce the "maths is boring" image. "I hope I will be able to teach maths in a challenging and progressive way, so pupils will look forward to my lessons." Hannah's degree combination of maths and music is unusual. "Having a balance of interest made both subjects more enjoyable."

James Williams is a lecturer in science education at Brunel University


* Ask for a copy of your timetable as early as possible

* Read the schemes of work produced by the school so that you know early on what you are going to teach

* Plan your lessons carefully, but be flexible: too rigid a plan can be as bad as loose one

* Be prepared for the unexpected, the video that is double booked or the broken-down photocopier

* Familiarise yourself with any equipment you may be using -overhead projectors, videos, computers, labequipment

* Don't be afraid to ask for help

* Be interactive during a lesson debrief, ask about things you have concerns about, look for confirmation that the good bits really were good

* Use the school's discipline policy and discipline routes

* Talk to the usual class teacher about the pupils and the teacher's expectations of them

* Get to know your pupils as quickly as possible

You can follow the progress of students in the next First Appointments section of The TES in January. Peri Coelho, Doreen Lawson and Hannah Jeffreys will reflect on their teaching practice, and whether their fears and expectations were realised or not.

Name: Peri Coelho, aged 43

Degree: Physiology

Background: Peri was born in Brazil and attended 13 schools in Brazil, the US and the UK. Until recently he worked as a resort manager in South America. He has two daughters, aged 12 and 15.

"My hope is that I will enjoy teaching. My development as a good teacher - that is one who can inject pupils with a desire to learn and show them how - will depend on much hard work. My two fears are that I might, on occasion, fail my pupils and that I might be gripped by disillusion. As for my expectations, I hope my pupils will enjoy learning and leave school with a body of knowledge, understanding and skills on which they can build successful lives. I will be making sure my lesson plans for the day are well developed and firmly fixed in my mind. If I know what I'm supposed to be doing I'll feel confident, even if circumstances demand flexibility and adaptation. I just want to get out there now and do it."

Name: Hannah Jeffreys, single, 23

Degree: Maths and Music

Background: Hannah was educated at her local girls' comprehensive. She took a year out after graduating and she worked for sixmonths in an office, spent two months doing voluntary teaching in India and then spent four months travelling through Inida and sout east Asia.

"I hope I have the ability to be a good teacher and that I will connect with the kids.

"I hope the PGCE will teach me many life-important skills, that will be transferable in my field. I hope that the course will be interesting, motivating and intellectually stimulating.

"My biggest fear is that the pupils won't respond to my teaching, so they will misbehave and disrupt the lesson.

"I'm also afraid that I won't be able to respond effectively on my feet to challenging events. I just really want to work with people. I love talking to people, I want to interact with people. I could never see myself in an office job."

Name: Doreen Lawson, single mother

Degree: Human geography and environment policy

Background: Doreen was born and educated in the West Indies. Both her parents were involved in education and she taught in Sierra Leone before coming to the UK. She has a son of nine.

"In Sierra Leone there were little to no resoruces, there was nothing, so you had to make all your resources.

"Teacher had to prepare their own maps for lessons. We didn't even have text books to give pupils, they had to buy their own. It was really hectic.

"The teachers had to buy their own magic markers and you were allocated only a certain amount of chalk. Once you finished that you had to buy your own.

"My fears are that the negative images of the profession in the media here would not only make teaching unappealing but overshadow the hard work teachers do. My main worries are about the pupil's behaviour and 'getting it right'.

"My first impressions of my placement were that there was good discipline and that the teachers were nice and helpful. Eventually I would like to become a head of department."

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