And now for a few surprises

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Three new teachers tell Frances Farrer how their first term shaped up to expectations

Every teacher training college sets out to cover absolutely everything but with the best will in the world there are almost bound to be surprises in your first term with your own class. This is refected in all spheres. A manual for what used to be known as yuppies, What They Didn't Teach You At Harvard Business School, proved profitably that this gap between theory and practice appears in most areas of activity.

Here are the first-term accounts of three new teachers. All say they have enjoyed themselves at their schools very much but have had to work much harder than they had expected. All say they have been well supported by experienced staff and mentors.

It sounds like fulfilment with exhaustion, which may not be so bad.

Simon Crook, maths teacher from Charters School in Berkshire says: "We were all worried about discipline throughout our teaching practices. When you're training it's always someone else's class, and 90 per cent of the time the teacher is in the room with you. When you get your own class it's all your own responsibility.

"But there is very good mentoring here, maybe because there are more than l0 new teachers this term. I feel well supported.

"Probably what has surprised me most is how much the parents worry - either too much or not enough. If I give a practical lesson, say, cutting out a parallelogram to turn it into a rectangle, they say 'my child isn't being stretched enough'. The kids think this too. They don't yet see the value of work that isn't chalk and talk.

"If I could start again I'd be stricter to begin with, less adventurous with my teaching methods. I would maintain the old boundaries and shift them more slowly.

"You're told that what you do in the first few weeks moulds the class, and it's true. Older classes need clear boundaries most, even though they moan about them. I'm looking forward to next year when I can start again with new groups, and use what I've learned."

For Neil Musk of Bedgrove County Middle School in Aylesbury, the job of teaching is not entirely new although teaching primary age children is.

He had taught English as a foreign language in Japan and can compare and contrast with a very different system.

"Now, I'm doing it for the right reasons," he says. "I started this job with another new teacher and for the first four weeks we were both very tired, although I think it is actually less tiring than teaching practice.

"The main difference is the amount of paperwork to do - I hadn't realised how long it would take after school, but I have been very lucky. The staff here are supportive and they put you in the right direction.

"I did my teaching practice here and when I was told a job was coming up, I chose this school because I knew what I was getting into. They're good kids.

"The things I was unsure about? Dealing with special needs. On my second teaching practice my eyes were opened to the great variety of special needs, and that experience helps me now.

"I've got two children who are statemented and I'm surprised how much work I've had to put in, preparation and documenting in particular. It's great fun. I use games and flash cards from my Japanese teaching experience.

"Displays are another difficult area for me and I've been surprised how long it's taken to get them going, though I've had a lot of help. There are no displays in Japanese classrooms and children don't ask questions. I felt like a robot teacher out there. Now, I've got a new class, a new room, 26 children, a good parent teacher association - I wouldn't change it for anything!

"My only concern is that the PGCE may be too short. It should be two years. If they bring back the probationary year in some form, it will be a good thing. "

For Balginder Multani, teaching is proving so hectic that for the moment, "I don't have much of a life outside school", she says. Like the others she says the school she is in, Kingswood Middle at High Wycombe, is wonderful and the staff supportive.

"The hours are very long. This week we've had a meeting every night about the Christmas production, and there are planning meetings all the time. It seems that the curriculum on your teaching practice is just a small proportion of what's actually required. It would be more enjoyable without all the extra things. There's too much administration.

"I really enjoyed my own primary school years and I did voluntary work in a primary school during the second year of my history degree in Birmingham. I had to really sell my subject to get on the PGCE course. I don't think one year for a PGCE is enough. They say that you're a generalist, but the primary curriculum is so wide that really you're a specialist in nine subjects."

These newcomers present an optimistic sample - unscientific, anecdotal and genuinely random, with convergence on several points. The length of the post-graduate training is clearly one of those points and perhaps those looking at new legislation may be interested to know how strongly some new practitioners feel.

On this showing it would seem that people who are currently training to be teachers have chosen a hard-working but fulfilling life for themselves, with a good deal to look forward to. All three teachers said that so far at least they would not change it for any other option.

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