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First encounters

New teacher Karen McKoy looks for moral support

When I get home after a bad day and I'm really in the pits, Team Karen rushes into action and pulls out all the stops to keep me on track. You need it - this support team - as a trainee. It's a bedraggled bunch of camp-followers wading through torrents of tears and man-size tissues and can consist of anyone, any old body who's prepared to waste his or her breath telling you how wonderful you are and that it'll all be worth it in the end. Someone who's got the patience of a saint and the stamina of a long-distance runner.

It's usually a long-suffering partner plus ear-plugs (What? Did someone say "TEACHING BORE"?), frazzled parents, a string of neglected, sorrowful-looking children, a cat sans purr with paws in its ears and a mentor who's been mistaken for an agony aunt more times then he or she cares to remember.

Team Karen springs into action whenever there's a pit-stop. That's pretty regularly and usually means a crisis. Pit mechanics rush out with bicycle pumps to boost flagging confidence when nothing short of a Grand Prix win will coax you back into that classroom again.

And there are bad days - you really need the team behind you on bad days; the days when it's like being stuck in a swamp with your wheels spinning. Only the children are blissfully unaware of these monstrous needs, the haunted, hunted look creeping into a mentor's eyes (the person who used to be their teacher before this vampire student started her experiments). The kids just watch the race; they don't see the pit-stops, the oil changes and chassis patching.

I was assessed for the first time late last year. Of course they knew it - they had to. Why else did they send in the clowns, timed to the very second, for period 6? And they had such a lovely task to do - I could have made so much of it. But Kevin wasn't deterred, he followed me about giving me intricate details about his sword fight with scores of giant spiders; he was going to use his laser gun, burn a few legs off, poke a few eyes out with his sword. Did I think it was a good idea? Or should he outrun them and shower them with fireballs before they reached their webs? Yes, Kevin, a wonderful idea...but haven't you noticed, dear boy, that Billy is swinging from the lampshade; (where on earth has Geoffrey been and when did he go?); Terry is dancing on the tables; and Bobbie is unravelling the whiteboard? And I am being ASSESSED!

No, but Kevin wouldn't notice - he's not attuned to any neighbouring crisis, only his own. And that's how it should be; sweet oblivion, for the time being anyway.

That night I screamed in my sleep and woke with a start; I was having nightmares. Giant spiders; swarms of them. Another pit-stop - Team Karen to the rescue. It's the homework. I'm taking it too seriously; 30 stories about tarantulas marked before Ovaltine and bedtime is not good for the digestion. It's a fine old state of affairs when it's not just Year 7 that gives you the heebie-jeebies but Year 7 creative writing tasks as well. But then - spiders, assessors - where's the difference? They all tend to lurk about in the dark at the back of classrooms.

But I can get through it, can't I? If I've got my Team in tow. Please...say that I can...I will, won't I? By this stage my ego is so insecure nothing short of rapturous applause at the end of a lesson will suffice. Year 7? A round of applause? Please?

Karen McKoy is a PGCE student at the University College of St Martin, Lancaster

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