First encounters;Talkback;Opinion

17th April 1998 at 01:00
There is something PGCE students must know, but will not learn on the course. As they wander about their teaching practice schools they must worry less about the way they teach, and more about the way they walk. Forget classroom management, forget lesson planning, this is far more important.

Picture the scene. It is five to nine. The bell has just gone. Assembly has just finished, a hush descends over the hall. There is silence, apart from the gentle squeak of rubber shoes on polished floor. The noise is almost imperceptible, but everyone in assembly hears it. The head is on his way to the door.

All eyes are on his majestic stride; quick enough to seem busy, slow enough to retain dignity. A Mona Lisa smile plays across his lips, ready to turn into a more generous one or to curl into the hangman's menacing grin. Shoulders back, arms swinging, he leaves silence and awe in his wake.

And now his chief henchman. The deputy head follows him down the aisle. The walk is brisker, the limbs swinging in an almost military march. The only part of his body not moving at speed is his head. Slowly it revolves, the eyes sweeping across the rows of pupils like a Colditz searchlight, stopping occasionally on an untucked shirt, or an ill-fated nose stud.

Next is the head of English. He seems to walk without moving his legs, gliding imperiously down the aisles, as if wearing roller blades. His elegant head is pointed to the roof, a strand of hair trails in the breeze. With no bustle or bravado, the air of aloof authority is perfectly pitched.

The head of French is quite a different affair. Her sharp heels click rhythmically, the noise carrying to Year 9 in the back row, and beyond. Her porcelain-white face is held absolutely straight, dark eyes stare rigidly ahead. Year 7 sit transfixed. They realise that their lack of homework and this awe-inspiring head of department are on collision course.

The atmosphere changes. The click of heels gives way to the comfortable squelch of trainers. The PE teacher is taking his leave. Arms and legs effortlessly work in tandem, tracksuit rippling under the strain of well-developed biceps. None of the carefully crafted authority here, rather the natural approach, bowling pupils over with sheer physical prowess.

Just when the school recognises that the last member of staff has left, and that it is their turn to make their way to lessons, the student teacher makes his appearance. The school watches in fascinated silence as this newcomer starts to make his way up the aisle. Lesson plan in one hand, red pen and register in the other, he takes his first steps. It is like Bambi trying to walk on ice, compared with the recent thoroughbred performances.

In Britain today, appearances are everything - especially in schools, and student teachers should be aware of the messages sent out in the way they hold themselves. Not only do they have to learn to teach, they must also learn to watch their step.

Charley Openshaw is completing a PGCE course at Anglia Polytechnic University. He graduated from Wimbledon School of Art in 1996

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