Despair not, help is always at hand

21st December 2012 at 00:00
Despite self-doubt and illness, PGCE student Angie Jenkinson is sustained by others' kindness

I can't do this. I definitely can't. I thought I could, but I can't. I'm sorry for wasting everyone's time. I'll just breathe into this paper bag and everyone else can be a teacher because - I don't think I can say this often enough, and I feel I need to be crystal clear - I can't do this.

That's right, the first term of my PGCE course is nearly over.

It's almost Christmas and the trainee teacher's thoughts are turning to just how terrifying a prospect having one's own class is; just how out of their depth they are; and that maybe they should just run away and join the Navy. Because being shot at by Somali pirates sounds a lot less daunting right now than teaching Sparrow Class the letter x.

Teaching's hard. I mean, I knew it was going to be hard, but it never entered my mind before I got here that it was going to be so hard. I'm not wholly convinced that I'll ever be fully awake again.

What I am frequently sure of is that if this lesson doesn't go absolutely, staggeringly, mindbogglingly perfectly, all these four-year-olds with their shining faces full of wonder - all of them without exception - will be unable to avoid dying in the gutter as dead-eyed, drug-addled sex workers. If I don't model counting in twos entirely flawlessly, at least one of them, if not half of them, will end up doing porridge for some murders. And if I don't set the correct boundaries when it comes to lining up at lunchtime, I will be single-handedly responsible for Jeremy Kyle continuing to have a career into his sixties. It's that last one that keeps me awake at night.

I should probably mention that I've been brooding somewhat.

I've had some opportunity to do so. Because first term means first school placement, and first school placement means not only realising just how unready one is to be a teacher but also getting pulled up short in the face of one's pathetic immune system.

I see now that what is breathed out and generally exuded in your average Reception classroom is pretty much what primordial soup must have been. But I didn't understand that at first. There I was, naively heading into the classroom, helping the children like a Native American helping the Pilgrims, little knowing what horrendous, unprepared-for disease I was about to be struck down with. The perfect storm of toddler-lurgy hit, and that allowed me to really bed down in the Slough of Despond.

Actually, I might start thinking of my PGCE as sort of like The Pilgrim's Progress. Partly because I find names like the Hill of Difficulty, Enchanted Ground and Doubting Castle comforting; partly and connectedly because I am a massive pseud. Also, because at every point of difficulty and "I can't do this" moment, someone shows up to help: the class sends me a "get well soon" card, my mentor emails to check in, colleagues assure me that both self-doubt and chest infections are the norm, or my tutor tells me to go home every time I sneak half-well into the faculty (I can't tell whether she likes me and wants me to get better, or dislikes me and wants me to stay away for as long as possible).

Every time my confidence or resolve dips, something happens to pick it up, whether it's the moment someone small recognises the number 1, or can't stop laughing heartily because reading is so brilliant, or is overwhelmed by a picture of a pond because there might be fish in it. I reckon they're all worth coughing up a lung for.

God bless us, every one.

Angie Jenkinson is studying for a primary PGCE.

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