First encounters

2nd June 2000 at 01:00
Lucinda Murray throws in the towel

So, that's it. The last tomes have been returned to the library and I return to a desk full of gorged files and undelivered lesson plans. My heart is pounding and I ask myself: "What have I done?" Why have I - genuinely fond of children, competent with my subject, and enthusiastic to take my skills into the classroom, even keen to have fun - given up? But I have. I've waved the white flag, thrown in the towel and admitted defeat.

Supposedly, before you die, your life passes in front of you. I am still trying to piece together, like a misshapen jigsaw puzzle, my teaching life. Since September, my prospective career has gone horribly wrong. Classroom management was not my forte. Memories of pencil tins clattering to the floor followed by 28 grovelling children. Memories of asking, "Was it really necessary to flick sweets at the blackboard while I was eulogising about Wordsworth?" Enviable memories of watching my mentor organising her class by raising a hand and counting down "5-4-3-2-1", suppressing them into silence. Memories of me imitating her and the class raising the roof with a resounding chorus of "lift off!" Memories of bad lesson observations, my performance dissected minute by minute: first five minutes acceptable, ensuing 55 irrelevant because they did not relate to the main learning objective; fun, yes - but not relevant.

I hear the tut-tutting from far afield. I was beginning to feel like a square peg in a round hole. Surprisingly, I passed the first placement, as I had a great deal of support and guidance - positive and negative feedback, a fair balance to give me some grist to work with.

Back to safety, university (perched on a hill - in the clouds), lots of underpinning theories and jolly chats about making a difference, treating the hildren with respect and they will respect you. A chance, too, to watch brilliant teachers on video, surrounded by eager-faced, brushed and polished children, all with their hands up waiting to give correct answers. I coped at university, I felt confident and enjoyed the comradeship. I survived the academic environs, hugged a cuppa and psyched myself up for the second (and last) placement.

This was a disaster. My confidence evaporated quickly. I was not a welcome crew member in a well-organised ship - a pirate perhaps. I made mistakes and because all the other crew members were so well equipped, my mistakes became more evident (did someone mention "teaching practice"?). The school lost confidence, the university was summoned, the children lost faith and the parents were muttering. I felt my days were numbered. I was very isolated.

The heavy workload meant family life, friends, sleep - any life outside the classroom - became a happy memory. Knots were forming in my stomach and my throat. Debts were mounting rapidly. I was sinking fast. I was given an ultimatum - pull yourself, your lesson plans, your management, together in five days. My wobbly decision to quit was made over a numeracy plan.

Yes, I know I am a coward and I feel very naive. I thought it would be easy. It is, when you watch from the back of the class. Teaching is tough, I admire those teachers who orchestrate the classroom - even educate the children. They are amazing. They are committed. I realise I am not a suitable candidate and I am glad I experienced life on the chalk face. I had to get to the end of my path before I knew I had reached a dead end. Funnily enough, I'm not very good at orienteering either.

Lucinda Murray has a degree in English and creative studies. She started her PGCE at Bath university

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