First encounters

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Pam Jarvis finds that she never really fits in

It's my lazy day, which means I don't start teaching until 7pm, so when the postman knocks at the door I'm still undressed and on my way to the shower. "Sorry," he says, "but I didn't want to spoil this. It says 'Please Do Not Bend' and it looks sort of important."

I sit on the stairs and open it. It's my PGCE certificate. I suppose this makes me an NQT, but I feel like I've been planning learning outcomes forever.

I began my fifth year as a teacher last September, which is when I put the finishing touches to my first MEd module. Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world of regular education.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I received another important brown envelope informing me that I was now not just "the twins' mum" andor "Claire's mum" andor "Chris' wife", but also Pam Jarvis BSc Hons (Open) First Class, eligible for graduate psychologist status with a degree which spanned psychology, brain biology, child development, sociology, social policy, and religious studies.

With three children under 11, what could fit in better with family commitments than teaching a couple of evening classes in GCSE psychology? But soon there were more classes, sometimes mornings, afternoons and evenings. I began teaching on courses I had never dreamed about in my little academic bubble, with strange names like GNVQ health and social care and BTEC childhood studies.

My knowledge of the social sciences had grown with my children. Reading Piaget's theories and watching them being acted out by three unsuspecting little ones meant that observing academic ideas come alive in the real world was never an issue for me.

The fact that this was considered so unusual and desirable in the world of vocational education meant that I was working more or less full-time by the end of my first year in teaching. As long as I was home by three, I could leave again at six when Dad came in from work. P> The Alice in Wonderland feeling never really disappears for an academic in the world of vocational training. Just like Alice, I meet strange and wonderful characters, and I am always being introduced to ideas and practices that I would never have otherwise considered. But also, just like Alice, I never really fit.

Sometimes I'm too big, when it comes to fitting a huge theory like Marxism into sessions for students destined for careers in early years; and sometimes I'm too small, when it comes to answering questions about what brands of large construction equipment might be most suitable for three to five-year-olds.

In the words of The Clash: "Don't know who I'm supposed to be. Don't know which clothes even fit me. So you've got to let me know: should I stay or should I go?" Sometimes I know I ought to stay, such as when mature students tell me that they will try not to smack their kids so much now they understand there are so many other ways to deal with children's behaviour. But sometimes I just want to go when learning outcomes tell me that to qualify as a nursery nurse, students must understand the principles of Marxism and Functionalism.

Parent to nursery nurse: "Do you understand Marx's vision for society?" Nursery nurse: "You what?" Parent hustling child away: "Come on Damien, I'm not leaving you here!" But looking at this brand new PGCE certificate, I realise that even after all these years, my idealism is still winning out.

Teaching A-level and degree social science to highly academic students is great, but it doesn't leave me feeling that even if this pupil is never in paid employment in his or her life, I just might have communicated something that might, when the time comes, make him or her a better, more informed parent.

So Brave New World or just Keep On Truckin'? A bit of both I suppose. Once more down the rabbit hole.

Pam Jarvis completed her PGCE at Huddersfield University last year

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