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Ready, steady, teach - Not speaking the same language

Once you go there, you'll never want to come back." These were the words spoken to me, a secondary PGCE student, when I announced I was to spend a day at a local primary school. I envisaged lots of rosy-cheeked little ones, all keen to learn, sitting quietly as they were read a story on the carpet.

I arrived early and was pleased to be welcomed warmly into the colourful surroundings of reception. Just then, I noticed a pile of sand on the carpet and detected a rather acrid odour in the air. I unwittingly wrinkled my nose as a young pupil explained: "Billy has been sick, Miss. Do you want to come and see?" I decided I'd rather not.

Entering the Year 6 classroom, the teacher explained the morning routine. That day it was design and technology, followed by PE . but wait, that was cancelled due to bad weather. Then there was hymn practice, lunch, and some of the children's fathers were due to arrive for a fathers' dinner so some children might have to leave early.

I marvelled at how she explained the agenda at the same time as placating several excited pupils, taking the register and organising the equipment to be used in the lesson. I wondered where on earth she got her energy.

I was given equipment to prepare; the children were making motor-powered cars. "Feel free to help the children if they get stuck," called the teacher. My heart sunk: I'm a trainee Spanish teacher and know nothing about wires, motors and fashioning balsa wood into model cars.

"Miss! Miss! Johnny's car is working and mine isn't. Look. The wires aren't fixed properly."

I made my way over to the hapless child and stared vacantly at the model car. I had no idea what the matter was. So I tried to look intelligent and began fiddling with wires in what I hope was a knowledgeable way.

I must have looked convincing because I soon had a little tail of children straggling behind me (only because the class teacher had an even bigger queue awaiting her).

Be a primary teacher? No thanks, I value my sanity too much and I can't cope with wee or sick. But I take my hat off to those who do it. My experience was nothing if not a valuable insight into the differences between secondary and primary.

Lucy Smith is taking a PGCE in secondary modern languages at Wolverhampton University.

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