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Best of times, worst of times

JO PICKERING assistant director of curriculum, Derby College Wilmorton

'I always wanted to go into teaching, though my family tried to talk me out of it: my father thought it was an awful profession. I studied human biology at university and I intended to teach but so many friends who had done BEd or Cert Ed courses said teaching was really horrible that I went to work for the National Coal Board.

It was 1976 and I was the coal board's first female scientist. Everybody thought I was a secretary: I was actually doing research in preventative medicine.

Once I went in to give a lecture and this chap said: "Can you go and get me a cup of tea, dear?" I said: "After I've delivered the lecture, I'll see if I can arrange that for you." I had never really experienced chauvinism like that before.

The job became boring; I became more deskbound. As soon as my husband could pay the mortgage, I went for a PGCE.

I was 24 when I started m first full-time job teaching. I taught biology at a comprehensive in Derby.

I wanted to stop at home when our children were small, so I spent 10 years doing part-time contracts. I taught all over the place, in higher education, parenting courses at nurseries, supply in schools and at three local colleges.

Once I applied for a one-year post, about two hours a week, at the Derby College of Higher Education, now the University of Derby. I was working part-time and at that time I'd never taught in HE.

The day of the interview I got up early, got the children bundled off, got all dressed up and I went in scared to death. Two people were there; one looked me over and said: "Yeah, you'll do. When can you start?" I said:

"Pardon?" He replied: "Well, if you're good enough for Derby College Wilmorton, you must be good enough for us. We just wanted to be sure you weren't drunk at nine in the morning." I was quite disappointed.

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