First encounters

25th September 1998 at 01:00
The transformation is underway. Shirley the hippie has been eradicated. Make way for the new secondary-friendly Ms Evans. My hair has been cut and dyed a more sensible shade of red, my platform shoes have begrudgingly been replaced by a comfortable and non-offensive pair of plain blacks. The low-fat diet has begun, as have regular visits to the gym (I don't want any fat-related nicknames in school).

My slightly scruffy wardrobe, which caused no offence in my years in further and higher education, is slowly being pushed to the side, prompted by the recollection that friends who have already undergone the PGCE year were given marks for appearance. My solution? Get ready for it - I have bought a BHS cardigan. Who could suggest I wasn't dedicated to the year ahead and the creation of teacher Shirl? My parents will be so proud.

My appearance isn't all that has changed. I've moved flats and spent weeks painting over brown wallpaper in an attempt to achieve the glory of my last home (a Pounds 810 grant won't go far).

I've installed a power shower in recognition of the fact that I need more than a splash of water every morning to stave away the grumpy morning mode. And I've rearranged all my books into easy-to-locate sections. The creation of multiple "workspaces", a working darkroomart room and the subtle placing of lamps in every corner and plants at every turn have satisfied the Feng Shui experts.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that my money corner was out of place for a couple of days. I received a heart-stopping letter from the council telling me that they would not pay my fees or provide me with that enormous grant. A quick tidy of the house, replacement of the rubbish bin and, 24 hours later, all is resolved.

So as the day to begin the PGCE course approaches and all my summer assignments near completion, I ponder the reality of the First Day.

Recollections of past First Days make my stomach roll - when I started secondary school I was preoccupied with an overly stiff blazer, a very tight pony tail and the girl sitting in front who insisted on singing "Agadoo" while spreading her hair all over my desk. First day at university was altogether different, although in retrospect smacked equally of naffness. Everyone was wearing new Doc Martens, trying to pretend their parents weren't really there and proudly exchanging A-level results.

My first day teaching in FE threw me into a wholly different world; the sight of hyper-trendy, skate-boarding, dreadlocked 19-year-olds sent me reeling, as did their insistent requests to leave for a fag half way through the lesson.

They too were dumbstruck by the replacement of the usually elderly man with a 20-something female, and were incredulous that photographers came in such a form.

So how about the first day in school as a "teacher trainee"? I think I can handle this; I mean I've worked with primary pupils before under the guise of artist-in-residence. Somehow, though, the prospect of being watched by a more knowledgeable teacher while carrying out these tasks makes the whole experience seem so much more ominous. Scary? Yes, but in control, for I can rest assured that my new, more teacherish, appearance will convince those children that I know what I'm doing, that I can handle whole classes. Thank God for BHS.

Shirley Evans was a part-time photography lecturer in FE and HE. She is doing a secondary PGCE at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff

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