First encounters

15th October 1999 at 01:00
New teacher Nicholas Lind explains his career choice

A few years ago I suffered a neck injury while playing rugby; nothing too serious, but I had to wear a brace for a couple of weeks. It was hell. Not because it made me feel like Herman Munster's love child, but because of the continual questioning.

Have you ever had a neck brace, or an arm in a sling? Everywhere you go you get the same questions thrown at you: "What have you done to yourself?", "How did that happen?" and so on. You reach the point where you feel compelled to start answering sarcastically: "Oh, the neck brace? It's a fashion statement, darling." Either that or wear a sign around your neck explaining all.

Well, over the past few months I've had a similar experience about my career choice. Everywhere I go I seem to have the same questions thrown at me: "Why the hell do you want to be a teacher?", "What made you teach in a comprehensive?" After a few days of this I moved on to the sarcastic answers, but still the questions kept coming. The last straw came at the weekend when six members of my cricket team all asked me the same questions. I needed a sign round my neck, and this article is it.

So, why do I want to be a teacher? On the face of it, why should someone want to give up the chance to earn excellent money as, say, an accountant? But it is accountancy that provided me with the impetus to move into teaching.

As well as working in my accountancy company's agricultural department, I became part of the schools team, carrying out audits in both independent and grant-maintained schools. It was in one of the latter that I had my version of Saul's experience on the road to Damascus.

I found myself working in a room between two classrooms, being more and more drawn towards listening to a lesson. I can't remember the subject but I can remember thinking that the teacher was losing control. It reached a point where a pupil stood up and wrote something obscene on the blackboard, and the teacher didn't know what to do.

Throughout all this I was thinking, "Say this" or "Do that". I was convinced, probably wrongly, that I could have handled the situation better.

I didn't do much work for the rest of the day; I just listened to the lessons going on around me and had the feeling that the teachers, one way or another, were making a difference, whereas all I was doing was playing with numbers. That weekend I sent off for an application form, and before I knew it I had a PGCE place at Bristol.

"Fair enough," the questioners say, "but why a comprehensive?" (My background includes a public school education and working in a prep school during my gap year.) It is not just privately educated friends who ask me this. There almost seems to be a belief that if you've been educated in one sector you can't cross over.

I must admit that when I started my PGCE I did see myself either in the private sector or in a top league state school. Why? Probably because it was what I was most familiar with. However, my outlook was changed by Jayne, my tutor.

She took a gamble after watching me teach and sent me to a "challenging" school for my main placement. I wasn't overly impressed by her decision - and less impressed after my first day. But as time went on I began to enjoy myself more and more.

Even so, when I started to apply for jobs, I looked at the more academic schools. But at my first interview, I realised that the atmosphere would not suit me. So I changed tack and applied to schools similar to my placement school. At my next interview I knew straight off that it was the environment that I was looking for. I got the post.

Have I made the right decision? In my past few weeks at my placement school I was part of the team that put on a cross-departmental historydrama production for Year 7. Many of the cast represented the naughtier elements of the year and were rather unenthusiastic about their schooling. But at the end of the production they all felt like winners, especially when the headteacher singled them out for praise in assembly. Did I get that kind of buzz from accountancy? I think not.

Nicholas Lind teaches history at Ashton Park School, Bristol. He finished his PGCE at Bristol University last year

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