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Plunging into professionalism

From the moment student teachers set foot in a school they are expected to be professional. The pupils will have certain expectations of them as teachers. So will parents.

Professionalism is not innate. It is acquired, learned, tested. There is a code of conduct, some of which is found in any staff handbook, for example in relation to the Children Act, and some of which is not, where the unwritten ethos of the school dictates "Thou shalt not do (whatever) here". Therefore trainee teachers needs all their wits about them to learn how to behave as teachers a) in all establishments and b) in that particular one. It is not easy.

The duty of the appointed professional tutor is to ensure the trainees get off to a good start. Afterall, we want to encourage them, don't we, to do well and join our ranks?

There is more to looking professional than suitable clothing. Trainees may have chewed their gum throughout undergraduate lectures; this habit is not for the classroom. Teachers must not be seen to be casual. Their speech likewise should be appropriate: swearing at or in front of pupils is definitely out.

"Can't we even use everyday swear words?" a student asked me once. "Give me an example." The replies shot my grey hair straight on end: "No, never." The student said that everybody used them, even children.

I pointed out we would quickly get complaints from parents. This was proved at the end of that very afternoon when a teacher on duty, driven to the limits of his tolerance by a Year 10 pupil who was baiting him, told him to stop "poncing around" and go home. They boy obeyed immediately, only to return with both parents a few minutes later. They told the head in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't b well put up with a b teacher talking to their son like that. I rested my case.

All one can hope to achieve in those first days is to make the trainees welcome, explain as much as possible about the school and inform them of the basics of professionalism. Working with their subject mentors prepares them in part for the term ahead. Following a teacher, observing classroom management, visits to other schools all help to build up awareness of where their year's course is leading. Indeed, I constantly had to remind some that the training lasts a year, not just the first few weeks. The learning, of course, lasts a lifetime.

The school has a responsibility to ensure trainee teachers never go under. Very often the people who send them a life-belt are not necessarily the professional tutor and the mentor. A kindly word of encouragement from any member of staff can and does work wonders, and before long the trainees are keeping their heads above water, smiling, and paddling like mad underneath!

Pat Lacy took early retirement last summer from the post of vice-principal of a community college in Cambridgeshire.

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