First encounters

9th January 1998 at 00:00
My career as a comedian only started last month, but already I'm having amazing success - the mere mention of my job provokes gales of laughter.

Being a teacher gives a whole new meaning to the concept of stand-up comedy. While I'm quite enjoying my temporary spot at the centre of conversation, I've begun to question what I'm doing there. My family insists that "with your qualifications" brain surgery remains an option. My friends seem to see it as a regressive act, a bizarre manifestation of the perpetual student syndrome; returning to the academic womb, as it were.

So, it's a vicious circle. If I succeed, it's because I lack ambition to do anything else. If I fail, it's a round of I-told-you-so's in the executive bar.

Why do so many people see teaching as a free-for-all rather than a profession? I don't swoop down on my lawyer friends, screeching "You're a what?" although I'd often like to. On discovering what I do, my appreciative audience turns into a self-righteous firing squad, and I'm called on to explain why next-door's niece can't read, and can I justify why Mr Hughes kept us back after history six years ago when it wasn't us that let off the starting pistol?

Apparently, people don't make a rational choice when they enter teaching; it's a famous profession only because so many famous people have left it far behind. Yet a quick poll of other Beginning Teachers shows that, contrary to popular belief, we're startlingly normal - no power fantasies, no failed ambition, no blind idealism, only the slightest hint of a nervous breakdown.

Yet teaching still exerts a public fascination. Many professions become the butt of jokes, but Michelle Pfeiffer and Robin Williams aren't lining up to give a sympathetic portrayal of your average accountant or estate agent. "Be A Teacher", reads one misty-eyed advertisement in the US, "Be A Hero". We invite the two extremes of interpretation. Like that typical A-level question, the gap between the appearance and the reality of teaching is vast.

Just for once I would like to be considered normal. In the face of the vicious attacks on teachers - on me - that I read about, I feel all the emotions that are described in the anti-bullying policy adopted by my school. Having performed the miracle of recruitment (I am, according to some articles, a statistical impossibility), I now have the pleasure of knowing that, assuming I don't burn out within a few years, I'll be denied both promotion and early retirement. It's only by looking to the real experts in education - the teachers I observe every day - that I'm able to appreciate everything that is unique and exciting about my position. As a comedian I may be alternative, but I don't deserve to be laughed off the stage.

Gemma Warren is a PGCE student at London University's Institute of Education. She graduated in English from Leeds last summer * Student teachers and the newly qualified are welcome to contribute to this column. Send your thoughts to: Jill Craven at 'TES Friday', Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

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