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First encounters

Gareth Barlow finds comfort in familiar surroundings.

"Can anyone explain what a transitive verb is?" asks our tutor. "Well - I'm pretty sure that a verb is a doing word, butI ," I think to myself, as someone else in the class is accosted. Similar questions follow, many of which leave me flummoxed. I'd have thought they'd teach you this in school. Maybe they did and I've forgotten.

But as the first few weeks pass by at college, I gradually begin to settle in and find that it is sometimes possible to recall small nuggets of "new" information. But no sooner have I learned that "today" is an adverb of time, it's time to sidle out of the classroom and begin my first teaching practice with real children.

This new environment is slightly surreal; I feel as though I'm back at my own school, yet my muddled bearings suggest otherwise. The reality hits me when I reach a corridor junction; torrents of pupils come at me from all directions as they move between lessons. Even if I do know where I'm meant to be going, it seems to make little difference - I have to move with the tide.

Observing a variety of experienced teachers go about their work should be one of the easier aspects of this initial experience: sit quietly at the back of the class and make notes. I attempt this, but wide-eyed pupils crane their necks to stare at this new presence, before one comedian bawls:

"Who's the new boy, Miss?" The laughter reinforces the notion that the classroom is the domain of the pupil, despite the best intentions of any teacher.

But breaktime in the staffroom proves how quickly the tables may be turned. Pupils tread carefully as they request to see particular teachers; they are clearly removed from their comfort zones when faced with an abundance of authority figures.

I've started my second teaching practice, back at the same school. People have asked me if I'd have preferred to have gone to a different school, to expand my experience. This would have been beneficial, yet you can't beat returning to something familiar. I feel a bit like a real teacher. I even know my way around.

Gareth Barlow is studying for a PGCE in Englishoutdoor activities at the University of Wales, Bangor

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