First encounters

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Katherine Lee finds teaching a daunting prospect.

The time has come for me and my fellow student teachers to leave the nest. The room in which we have spent the past three months formulating perfect lesson plans, coming up with solutions to educational problems of any scale, and laughing at the classroom disasters tutors report to us, suddenly seems very cosy. It's never had any children in it; just our idealistic notions of success and how we're going to inspire the least willing of pupils, revolutionise the perceptions of Jane Austen and make grammar exciting.

The prospect of being flung out of the nest and into a teaching practice placement five days a week is suddenly less exciting and ever-so-slightly more frightening than it once was. Although being a student three days a week and a hard-nosed professional qualified teacher (at least, that was the impression we aimed to give) for two days a week did have its problems - it was easy to forget which you were - five days out in the wilderness seems a little too much.

In a vague search for stability and predictability, we arrange to meet in the same pub on the same day at the same time each week. Charts are made of who will be teaching what and when so we can collaborate and stun the masses with our plans of action - or at least moan to the right people about the traumas of teaching Of Mice and Men to a GCSE group. A constant queue of interns clutches books, files, worksheets at the photocopier in desperate attempts to salvage resources - "just in case".

We arrange a meal out together as if we are preparing to go into retreat. Phone numbers are swapped so no one is left alone and so we can contact each other in times of crisis. I meet a friend in Sainsbury's who, like me, is stocking up on the essentials in case we have no time to shop again over the next three months.

Then it occurs to me - perhaps we are over-reacting. Perhaps we have taken our tutor's throwaway comment about teaching taking over your life a little too literally. We have started to treat teaching practice as an impending disaster (which it will undoubtedly feel like at times, we are informed. This is when the phone numbers and pub meetings will come into their own.) Surely we will manage to get to the shops at some point this term. After all, real teachers must do. There must be some free time.

We've all been told - constantly - to make time for things apart from teaching, planning for teaching, talking about teaching and even writing about teaching. And yet comments like "go out, of course, but not too much", "take time off, but make sure you keep up to date with planning, marking, reports - oh and that dissertation", and "put parents' evenings in your diaries" make me think this is it, we are waving goodbye to life as we know it, and entering a whole new world. We're not so much leaving the nest as falling out as we warily peer a little too far over the edge. Please look after us.

Katherine Lee is a PGCE student at Oxford University's department of educational studies

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