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First encounters;Talkback

Who's TES is that? Who's got the jobs section? Where are the geography pages? Never mind geography, who's got the English teacher appointments?"

Oh yes, it's that time of year again, when, come Friday breaktime, instead of easing gently into the weekend after another exhausting week spent trying to convince Year 7 that just because you are a student teacher you have just as much authority as their "proper" teacher, you enter the staffroom to find all the other student teachers, heads down and eyes buried in the appointments section of The TES.

It's that Friday phenomenon, when we forget all the self-doubt, sought-after reassurances and group pledges to open a cafe next September, and start flicking madly through the paper in a desperate bid to find that job.

Superficially, we are all concerned for each other's job prospects. "Have you seen the advert on page 65 yet - it looks like a nice school...why don't you give it a try?" and other encouragements are passed around with almost as much frequency as the appointment pages themselves.

But the fact that no one has admitted to having applied for anything yet suggests we may all be a little more competitive than we're letting on. And for good reason - the prospect of finding myself sitting in an interview line with four people from my course or school does not fill me with the most untainted camaraderie.

Indeed, in testament to this underlying secrecy over job applications, a supply teacher asked if we'd applied for anything yet, warning us repeatedly that now is the time to start sifting through the school descriptions to give ourselves the best possible chance of securing the right position for our newly-qualified teacher year.

I for one, however, was not about to divulge the state of my applications. As I later noticed several of the others surreptitiously scribbling down school addresses, I am sure I am not alone.

But it's not just the confession that worries me, it's that everyone starts re-judging you on what type of institution you're looking at. Heaven forbid it might be an independent school.

I even heard one story about a PGCE student who refused to talk to another student about her experiences on block practice because the other person had been placed in a private school, and, of course, that's not the real purpose of education, is it? With extra pressures like that, it is hardly surprising that we all seem to be playing our cards close to our chests.

Even worse is the dreaded catch-up telephone call with the others on your course. At least at school there's no one else from my subject, so the competition isn't quite so direct, but I had a call last week from a friend only to find out she had just applied for the same job as me.

The worst part, however, is that, for some reason, I didn't tell her about my application. It wasn't that I was afraid of bringing an element of rivalry into the friendship or that I wasn't convinced by the best person for the job theory, it's just that it didn't come up in the conversation, OK?

At the moment, this isn't going to be a problem, but I'm just a little worried that the next time I speak to her might be outside the headteacher's office. I'll keep you posted, but, in the meantime, don't tell anyone I've applied, OK?

Alex Thorold-Palmer is a PGCE student in English at Roehampton Institute, London

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