A few geriatric career moves

16th September 2011 at 01:00

A friend is thinking about becoming a teacher. She's stuck on the old "to GTP or not to GTP?" question. Nothing polarises teachers quite so much as the issue of how we should train for the profession; well, that, and who's responsible for cleaning tomato soup spatter off the roof of the microwave.

Older teachers, like me, who entered the profession via the Geriatric Teacher Programme swear by it, although the fact that it's not recognised in Scotland - payback for refusing their fivers on public transport - means you can't teach north of the border. So any plans you had to avoid exorbitant tuition fees by marrying a Scotsman and bearing him five bonnie bairns who go on to study curling and caber tossing free of charge will have to be reconsidered. On the plus side, a GTP qualification means you'll remain in a civilised country which doesn't boast fried fruit cake as its national delicacy and which wasn't entirely pebble-dashed back in 1963.

Taking the GTP route is tricky - you know where you need to go but you aren't intellectually equipped to get there. It's a bit like trying to cross the polar ice cap on a red plastic Bamp;Q sled and with a couple of Snack-a-Jacks stuffed down your salopettes. For GTP students, age offers a distinct advantage. In the classroom, a flaccid physique is an effective behaviour-management tool. The kids have seen the ads for Tena Lady, Immodium and probiotic yogurt and they won't risk a showdown with a woman whose body fluids are primed, cocked and ready to fire.

As far as I can see, the main difference between the Graduate Teacher Programme and a PGCE is that the GTP allows you to experience the reality of classroom life before you squander your life savings on a nested range of Tupperware boxes and a lock-up for your file dividers. In contrast, PGCE students have to buy before they try. Hence, when they finally make it to the classroom, they know all about Vygotsky, Chomsky and the rest of the Ukrainian chess squad, but not how to stop a fight, unless they thwack the perpetrators on the head with their bulging files.

Having trained as a GTP student, I am biased. My first few weeks in school were a triumph: in terms of classroom management, there's a lot to be said for letting kids hide in the toilets. It was only when a deputy sent them back to me that things started to get tricky. But we soon reached a compromise: if I let the kids wear headphones, they'd let me be in charge, which is pretty much how it's been ever since.

There are other ways into teaching. One of them, Teach First, recruits "exceptional" graduates into challenging schools by offering salaries, leadership training and "Get out of School Free" cards, which they can cash in after the first two years. My problem with Teach First is that it makes teaching sound like a chore your mam would make you do on a Saturday morning - like "Tidy your room first, then you can go out and play", "Teach First" suggests that once you have picked up a few broken kids and sorted out their SEN statements, you can justifiably piss off with your pals to practise law and snort cocaine.

I mean, God forbid you should "Teach Forever" and make a lasting difference.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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