Dear Ted

10th October 2003 at 01:00
I've started a primary PGCE and am waiting for my first teaching practice placement. What will the class teacher expect from me?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

This depends partly on when you will be going out into a school - earlier or later in your course - and whether you have been able to make occasional visits beforehand.

At this stage, teachers will hope for a mixture of rich personal qualities and some basic professional nous. Enthusiasm, willingness to listen and learn, fresh ideas, strong interest in children are among the personal qualities needed. Initiative and independence of mind are also crucial, so the art is to become an interesting and dynamic individual who can be a member of what may be a small and intimate team.

No one expects you to be an ace teacher at the very beginning of your career; we all had to start off wearing the L-plates. But you should come armed with some viable ideas discussed with your tutors and teachers in the school, and be reliable and well organised, rather than slipshod. You should know about the curriculum you will be teaching and be a friendly, sensible and safe person to have in a classroom.

In the staffroom, you need to be respectful, but not a crawler, and you should interact socially with other teachers, but without taking them over.

If you wash your own cup and buy a box of biscuits, you will have won friends for life.

You may find that some primary teachers are scared and jittery nowadays, afraid to stray too far from QCA schemes of work. I hope this doesn't happen to you, because training is a time when you can develop and try out ideas. The teaching profession has always been a creative one, especially in primary schools, so you too must learn to use your imagination well, and experienced class teachers can be an excellent source of advice and support.

You say

Give it all you've got

It depends entirely on the school you are placed inI and how good you are.

My school takes a large number of PGCE students, and though it is sometimes frowned on by the training organisation, as a headteacher I tend to allow them to do as much as they can cope with. Good students will invariably be very enthusiastic, and certainly won't want to be sitting around watching the class teacher all day, and writing copious notes. They do enough of that in lectures, and they'll be raring to get cracking. A competent and sensitive class teacher will allow the student to do just that - and the partnership of a good class teacher and enthusiastic student can reap rich rewards for the children in terms of individual attention.

It's not just a case of "what will the teacher expect of me", either. If you're keen, say so, and expect to get stuck in. Schools vary enormously, so you'll have to play it by ear for the first day or so, and you'll probably be quite nervous initially, but colleges do try to place students in schools that are friendly, exciting and lively, especially as they want to nurture your enthusiasm for the job and not put you off.

Some lecturers are sticklers for following the rules, and expect their students only to be "teaching small groups" on initial practices, but any reasonable head will challenge these daft notions with the college. After all, when you get rid of your L-plates and acquire your own class, you're not going to be teaching six children.

Primary head, north London

Get fit for a learning workout

I would expect you to bring a listening ear, wide eyes, an open heart - and stickability. I don't want you to know a lot, but I do want you to learn a lot. So when you join me, I'm going to be much more interested in who you are and how you'll be with my children. We've been together as a class for just over a year so we know each other pretty well; we've got history. The big thing is that you will learn through your pores. How do the children behave? What are the boundaries? What's up for discussion and what's given? How am I with them and they with me? How does this class work?

Keep a diary; jottings of things that you see, hear and do. There's only one unbreakable rule: you have to like kids, and help them to learn. You also need to learn to grit your teeth, smile and keep smiling. You need stamina, patience, courage and agility. So get into that gym and get yourself fit.

Primary teacher, email

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