Cheers! Mine's an ARF

8th January 1999 at 00:00
It was easy being a student teacher in the Sixties - no observers, no OFSTED. These days it's all BTs showing their ARFs to SPTs. But the spirit of rebellion lingers still, says Richard Daubney

In my day we were still allowed to call ourselves students; we were student teachers. Now everything has its abbreviation and proper term. For students on teaching practice read BTs (beginning teachers) from an Institute of Education somewhere on Professional Experience. And I'm their SPT (school professional tutor).

SPT. It makes you want to SPIT.

They have arrived for a week of induction. Young, professional, smart in the new black, they're early, waiting for me in reception. I feel threatened. They're younger, better, cleverer than I am. They're keen, dead keen. They have a workplace mindset, I can tell. For a moment it is I who feel like the scruffy one, the student again. It takes me back to my teaching practice, 30-something years ago . . .

"Sir, are you a revolting student, Sir?" His name comes back to me like it was yesterday. Kiertzner. I've no idea of his first name, and hadn't then. It was an all-surname, all-boys grammar school. He was in the second year (Year 8 now). The papers were full of student revolt.

"Kiertzner, are you a revolting pupil?" I remember quipping back. The class loved it. I was a big kid come among them, and they shrieked with laughter. Just before the bell we got down to some work, I think.

That was teaching practice in the Sixties. You went there, made your mistakes, then walked away from them. Nobody ever "observed" me. Or, if they did, I didn't notice. A tutor did come over from my university education department (we didn't have posh institutes), saw part of a lesson and chatted to me afterwards. "You're polite to them," he said, "and they're polite to you." (It wasn't Kiertzner's class.) Teaching by experience! Touchy-feely, that was what mattered then. I remember my first teaching placement had been at a big city comprehensive. I had read in The TES about how an English teacher had made pupils jab each other with pins so that they could write about pain. There was no Aids and no ofsted in those days. I thought of buying a pack of pins myself but chickened out when I saw the size of the pupils. Inflicting pain, I sensed, would be too enjoyable for them and too threatening for me.

I step forward and introduce myself to these bright, young Nineties things who have already said goodbye to their youth. At least Kiertzner kept me young. They are deadly serious. I will have to make at least five formal observations. The first thing they do is hand me their ARFs (assessment record folders). And then they apologise.

The moment they apologise something happens. They become human. "We realise," one of them says, "that we're involving you in a lot of work, and we're grateful that you've taken us on. It's a lot of work for you, completing the ARF."

"Your arf?" I see their eyes twinkle. There's something about them that isn't totally serious.

Later I catch them laughing in the stock room. "We're just having a giggling session. About our ARFs." It's a massive file. Arf is a misnomer; it's a one-and-an-ARF.

I share with them a "Fancy a swift arf?" joke and off they go again, squealing with laughter, as if they haven't heard them before. And my heart warms to them, these bright, bubbly people. As a colleague said: "Doesn't it make you feel good about our profession when such good people are coming into it?" At the end of their placement, and over an arf in the Spotted Cow, I shall be in a mood to be anecdotal. I shall tell them about Kiertzner, and we shall drink to him. I'll tell them about that grammar school, and we'll drink to it.

"Get a haircut!" the headmaster had told me on the first day of induction. I was rather Sixties and hirsute. They'll like that.

Did I observe any lessons, they'll ask. One or two, but I remember that I wasn't allowed to see the head of department's class. We shall drink to him. Here's to every teacher that claims they can walk on water, but only when no one is looking. There's a lot of them about.

Here's to making your mistakes and walking way from them.

Those were the days. When the only induction you got in a school was directions to the barber's. When you couldn't see the head of department teach in case it upset him. When nobody observed you or gave you advice. When so many university education departments were, quite frankly, crap. When you made mistakes and walked away from them, none the wiser.

Only I didn't. I had to face Kiertzner and co again in September for real. The head of English retired when I was on my teaching practice and a job came up, the junior in the department. I got it on condition that I shaved off my beard. (I'd had a haircut, so I grew a beard to compensate.) Which I did, but I had grown it again by September when I started.

Remember me, the revolting student? I'm your revolting teacher now.

Maybe there's something in these ARFs after all. I feel, in retrospect, angry about the deal that was handed out to me. In the Spotted Cow, with five observations behind us, and our paperwork done, our arfs will transform into pints. Maybe sooner if we get arf a chance.

Richard Daubney teaches in the South-east

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