Back to how the other half lives

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Robin Frame no longer gets paid to enjoy academic pursuits at Jordanhill.

He has stepped away from the lectern to sit down as a student primary teacher

Before this term began, I was filled with uncertainty. Nothing new in that you might think, but I plead a special case. I had signed up for an Additional Teaching Qualification.

I was cashing in my secondary certification to become a trained primary teacher. I did this with some trepidation, but I decided to see how it went.

All I really knew with certainty was the starting date. I knew I would be one of the oldest, so perhaps I had best concentrate on avoiding old buffer status.

Trying to recall my training for secondary probably wouldn't help. Times have changed. The medical back then was uncompromising and when I commented, I was told firmly: "I'm the only one who can fail you." It was a long time ago and run under a "special recruitment scheme".

Perhaps I could try to be the ideal student teacher. Schools are clear about what they value: good time keeping, a willingness to get stuck in and the ability to see that things need to be done, from marking jotters through sorting paint pots to helping the struggling group or individual.

Headteachers look for someone who will fit in and contribute loads to the classroom and the school in general, but there are differences depending on placements.

We have all heard the horror stories. Chairs, mugs and parking spaces that are subject to unexpectedly passionate ownership claims. Teachers who doubt the validity of the course the student is taking.

I thought I might struggle a bit to figure out what tutors wanted from a student. Did they really believe in the "file" and would I have to learn what my individual tutor's bugbears were?

But it was the classroom that held the big fears for me. "You're only as good as your next lesson" is a sound but humbling precept. Could I make the alchemy work in whatever school or class I was allocated?

I have shared just these fears with many people over the years, but they were the ones confronting them. You see, I've spent 10 of the last 27 years helping students through placement, school experience or just plain old teaching practice as their tutor. Now I have to find out if I can hack it myself.

The first week of the ATQ Primary course was gruelling. Hefty wedges of input, leavened with spirit-saving humour, assaulted my brain, which was still contemplating the joys of early retirement. The students gathered in the impeccable Curriculum Centre at Jordanhill and collected our copies of the 5-14 documents. These were pretty intimidating before you opened the covers and clearly not light reading.

I have now given up thinking about what kind of student I'll try to be and instead I'm delighting in the discovery of such a varied bunch of fellow fun seekers. Our "red coats" are the tutors and our overriding impression is how supportive they are. They have been at pains to anticipate our fears and show that these are either wholly groundless or, if not, then shared.

All the kindness and consideration has completed the transformation of this group of self-motivated and self-reliant teachers into students.

We are left in no doubt what is expected of us but a realistic progression is presented, culminating in readiness for our own classrooms. A significant part of this is the clear distinction of what we need to get the hang of this term (as students) and what we should be beginning to accomplish next term (as teachers).

Maths and how it is taught in primary schools was one of my concerns.

However, the tutor has been coaxing stalwart efforts from us as we grapple with the approved methods. We simply have to be readily conversant with the approaches the children will be using and able to discuss the merits of decomposition over whatever it was we did at school.

Deep down, I still feel anxious; I worry about my role as the one who must diagnose the child's difficulty, the one who has to spot which bit of the operation of subtraction is not understood.

How am I going to develop these diagnostic skills? The 5-14 curriculum really doesn't seem to operate in diagnostic terms. I have a little trouble understanding just what the underlying philosophy may be.

Perhaps I hanker for the days when courses were underpinned by personifications of educational thinking, such as Piaget.

Back when men were first permitted to join the primary diploma course, the formidable health tutor gave her lecture on venereal disease. At the end, one of the louts in the back row asked: "Did Piaget have VD?"

"What a strange question. I do not know, but why do you ask?"

"Well," quoth the wag, "this is the first lecture I've been to that hasnae mentioned him."

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