Come on, you can do it

24th January 2003 at 00:00
We were all student teachers once, so don't be too hard on them, says Robin Warren

Go on, admit it, you hate the idea of having a student teacher in your class. Several thoughts occur when you're asked the dreaded question.

First, you thank God you're not a student having to go through teaching practice again, filling your TP file with anything and everything, spending hours on a literacy game, and travelling into deepest Surrey every day, only to return eight hours later to work into the small hours. Second, you hope your student will be on their final practice, so they are experienced enough to take the full weight of your teaching responsibilities. Third, you pray they are competent. But finally, deep down, you hope they don't turn up.

Why do teachers dread having students? Well, it's nice to have a little break, to have some free time to tackle that pile of paperwork and order those laminating sheets. But students need a lot of support, especially those who don't have a clue about teaching - well done, that careers adviser! - and it's up to you to help them make it.

That means staying a bit later to review the day's work and coming in a bit earlier for meetings. It means extra admin, writing up observations and filling in college forms. It means chatting to a disillusioned lecturer who remembers how it was and how things haven't changed. It's extra work for no extra pay. Usually.

You plan and prepare your lessons. Then, with a student, you have to go over what you are doing, what you expect them to do, and what the pupils will do. This takes hours. Then there are the endless, often irritating questions. You forget you were in their position once. Be kind.

As the staff member in charge of students and volunteers at an inner London primary school, I take the endless phone calls and file the endless correspondence. I become the person teachers fear. As I approach them waving that familiar letter from a university, they know what's coming :

"Would you?" "Could you?" "You will".

I remember going into schools as a student, hoping for a friendly and supportive class teacher. More often than not you end up standing in an office for ages because the member of staff looking after you is off sick, has forgotten all about you, or has no idea what to do with you.

I was lucky. Every teacher I worked with looked after me, bar one, who made it clear he didn't want me. So why put a student with a teacher who doesn't want one?

There is nothing worse than arriving at a school where the staff are unprepared for your visit, which is why I make sure the students who visit my school are made welcome. I created a pack that contains staff lists and responsibilities, contact details, timetables, curriculum maps, the school brochure, behaviour policy, class lists and exemplars of planning. If nothing else, it keeps them busy while you think about what you're doing.

Get a child to show them around.

Having a student gives you a chance to observe the children, to assess them in depth. It is also a way to keep you on your toes; you have someone watching you, soaking up your expertise and experience, so you have to perform at your best, don't you?

And you learn from them, borrow their resources. They don't blanch at making toys that move, or dodge double negatives. They dive in enthusiastically. Like we did once.

Robin Warren is a key stage 1 co-ordinator and student mentor at Hargrave Park primary school, London borough of Islington

Hosting a student the do's

* Share resources with them. Don't let them invent the wheel if you've got something they can use.

* Let them use your classroom. They have to make it theirs, too.

* Treat them like a colleague. They value this and feel welcome. Invite them to the pub after school.

* Give them constructive criticism as well as praising their strengths.

* Allow them to make mistakes without embarrassing them.

* Tell them they are human and that teaching can be hard.

Iand the don'ts

* Panic. Students will think you are an excellent practitioner after you've taken the register.

* Put them off with cynical banter or endless anecdotes about the good old days. We need to encourage the next generation.

* Refer to them as "the student". It's demoralising and patronising. When they are with you, they are a teacher. Use their name.

* Exclude them from the staffroom. This widens the barriers.

* Delude them. If there is a problem, let them know.

* Worry - you might actually enjoy it.

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