First encounters

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Helen Mariner, former hardened hack, discovers the real thing

I can't help it - I'm overflowing with enthusiasm. I've tried hard to wrap my naive good spirits in a suitably sardonic shell, but it ain't working, folks. Nobody is taken in for five minutes. And what's more, after eight months having a whale of a time doing a PGCE as a mature student, I've realised the truth. I'm not alone.

Yes, teaching is hard work. Yes, some of the children can transform abrasiveness into a new art form. Yes, you can spend hours on lesson plans that go horribly wrong. But when it goes rightI then you're really flying. That's the secret no one tells students. We hear plenty of, "Whatever made you want to come into teaching? I can't wait to get out," from the hardened lifers. But, in spite of what they tell you, there are no bars for anybody who really wants to go over the wall.

The arcane rule of the initiated is that cynicism in the staffroom is only skin deep. The closely guarded truth is that the teacher who walks in at break time muttering "I hate kids!" would never dream of doing anyting else. And while she's venting her spleen, she wouldn't hesitate to spring into action if one of the little darlings knocked on the door with a homework problem.

I know cynicism, for goodness sake. I was a journalist for years. I've known jaundiced hacks giving their real opinions behind the scenes. I've seen the pressure on writers with nothing but filthy lucre and the constant fear of someone else after their jobs as motivation. I know the real thing.

As a PGCE student I have been offered astonishing kindness and understanding, and that generosity of spirit is also directed towards the kids and colleagues. The fact that teaching is a profession full of people with that sort of attitude is just one of the many reasons I wish I'd bitten the bullet and retrained years ago. Teachers, you wear your ennui like a fashion accessory, and your hearts are untouched. Never mind why I am coming into teaching. If you're so cynical, how come you're still here? But we all know the answer to that.

Helen Mariner is a mature PGCE student with the mid-Essex SCITT consortium


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