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How things have changed

My eldest daughter has decided to change careers. She's going to train as a teacher.

Since it's a job I have loved, I'm delighted. She has a natural talent with children and her enjoyment from working briefly as a classroom assistant strongly influenced her decision. "There's nothing like working with children," she says, and I certainly second that.

She will train for one intensive year. It's so different from my training in the 1960s, when three years was the minimum, although the teaching practices were the best part and undoubtedly still are. These days, though, the costs are prohibitive. A trainee needs money for the course, and more money to survive while training. Having had several teachers on my staff who have changed careers at 40, I know how tough it can be, particularly if you have children and your partner isn't a high earner.

Although my parents helped me as much as possible, I still had to accumulate money to get me through the three years, and like most other students, I scoured local papers for temporary holiday jobs. Fortunately, they were plentiful, and there were three I came to do regularly.

At Christmas, I would work for the local Post Office, doing a 12-hour shift for #163;10 a week. This involved sorting out huge stacks of letters and cards and putting them into the correct pigeonholes for delivery, or working in the canteen putting sausages into rolls for starving postmen to buy as they came off their rounds. The most exciting part of the job was whizzing round in vans collecting mail from postboxes, although you had to be careful where you put the sack, since dogs viewed pillar boxes as a convenient place to defecate.

At that time, there were two restaurant chains in every high street: ABC and Joe Lyons. At Easter I worked in my local Lyons, clearing tables, washing up and filling sugar containers. The most coveted job among the students was "being on steam". This meant standing behind the counter, serving the public with tea and coffee from huge stainless steel jugs. When the jug was empty, you shot more water into it by pulling a lever, which caused a spout to emit a mass of steam and water. It was a satisfying feeling. An added bonus of the job was that students could eat leftover food, and since I was usually starving, I have fond memories of working for Mr Lyons.

Best of all was my summer holiday job, working for the parks department. I was in the open air all day, pottering around with a barrow and a rake, tending flower beds and chatting to the old ladies about plants as they walked through the park with their dogs. There was a pond in the middle of the park, on which children would sail their boats, and hardly a day went by when I didn't have to retrieve one. This was achieved with a thick cane pole, fetched from the park keeper's office, and balancing it on my shoulder as it bounced up and down would have taxed the patience of a tightrope walker. The pond was beside a cage containing Aurora, an ancient macaw, who screeched loudly when my pole knocked her perch, and she found me even more annoying than the children who tried teaching her to say "bugger off" to anybody who passed by.

Finding a holiday job isn't something most students do now. But since the government thinks anybody can be a teacher, perhaps the training won't survive, either.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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