....But can you afford to do it?

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Kate Claydon, pictured right, is beginning her teaching career - while her father is near the end of his. Yet though attracted to teaching for essentially the same reasons, neither has any time for government policy towards recruitment

Last year's announcement of a pound;6,000 training salary for PGCE students came as a bitter pill for those of us struggling to maintain our enthusiasm in the last few months of what can only be described as a difficult year. We had been hit not only with the revelation that our maths GCSE, or equivalent PGCE entrance test, was not suitable proof of our ability to interpret and analyse school data, but also by the complete failure of the Government to acknowledge, let alone thank, those of us who had chosen to undertake the PGCE without any financial incentive.

The Government's approach to teacher recruitment seems at best misguided, at worst totally misplaced. A handout of pound;6,000, though desperately overdue, is not going to do more than assist those already won over to the idea of teaching. It is inconceivable to expect to recruit the highest calibre graduates when the financial incentives are so much greater in other professions.

In order to recruit larger numbers of able graduates, the Government needs to make a conscious decision to raise the profession's status. Yet it is not only financial constraints that tarnish the image of teaching. The burden of continually-expanding bureaucracy, the under-funding of schools, and well-publicised cases of teachers being wrongly accused of abuse, all serve to add to teachers' poor public image. Only my family, a few friends and old teachers expressed positive thoughts about my joining the profession.

Yet I still chose to teach. Despite years of swearing I would not follow in my dad's footsteps, I finally succumbed after first enduring the round of corporate assessment centres, having convinced myself that a competitive graduate salary was the only way forward. It wasn't. The challenges a corporate life were offering didn't seem varied or intellectual enough, merely logistical.

A friend who was also going through the graduate mill persuaded me to do as she was and apply for teacher training. She was absolutely right. I had already realised how much I was missing my degree subject and, from the moment I started my PGCE, I have loved teaching. It offers me the freedom to pursue and share my favourite subject, the opportunity to work with colleagues with similar mind-sets, and the chance to work with a vast range of children of differing interests and abilities.

Many of my pupils are challenging, disruptive and uninterested - but so at times was I. What makes the job worthwhile is the satisfaction that comes from seeing genuine enjoyment as upils grasp new concepts and produce excellent work, or simply realise they can achieve something.

Watching nine members of my Year 7 tutor group sing in front of a packed hall full of fellow students, parents and teachers brought home to me just how fulfilling our job can be - I was so proud of them. However, I am still wary about the bureaucracy that surrounds teaching. I had been banking on using the Computers for Teachers scheme to purchase a laptop, which is essential if I am to keep my sanity.

The Government's plans to suspend the scheme will leave me no access to a computer outside school. Yet they claim that every teacher recruited to the fast-track scheme will need a free laptop to complete his or her work.

What then for the ordinary NQT? The idea that some teachers need computers so badly that the Government will pay but that the rest must finance their own is ridiculous. As is the "fast track".

If "those who can, teach", then why will only some of us be capable of fast-tracking? The notion that teaching can be referred to and modernised in corporate terms completely misunderstands its nature. It is essential that teachers work together - any measure likely to cause division will damage the profession.

Being in constant competition with colleagues will not help to ease the burdens that teaching inevitably brings. I would not have made it this far if it had not been for other teachers' friendliness and help. Neither would I have coped without the support and encouragement of my fellow PGCE students and NQTs.

The opportunity to compare good and bad experiences has been invaluable. I can hardly help thinking that if some of my peers were on the fast track, the relationship would no longer be equal or honest. Would we all be so willing to share our mistakes and, more to the point, our resources and ideas if we were constantly concerned with how this would reflect on our individual profiles?

Teaching is a rewarding job, of that I have no doubt. Every day is different and full of new challenges. It is not, however, an easy job. It is exhausting, filled with bureaucracy, and there are days when the frustration of dealing with disaffected children makes you either want to scream or cry, let alone remember why you ever chose to be a teacher.

If the Government truly wants to make teaching an attractive career option, salaries need to be equivalent to those of other professions, and public praise for teachers' work needs to be more forthcoming.

But, most of all, they should not attack our professionalism - teachers are well aware of what their jobs involve. Give us the freedom to get on with them.

Kate Claydon is an English NQT at Littlehampton Community College in West Sussex


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