First encounter;Talkback

15th May 1998 at 01:00
As a pleasant distraction from school life, I recently became a godfather. Rosalyn's mother had an extremely long labour, and had to be given an epidural, a particularly nasty injection in the back. Horror of horrors, it was administered by a student doctor, who apparently made a bit of a meal of it.

While I hope that sitting through one of my lessons is not quite as painful as having an epidural, I am struck by the similarities between the roles of student teacher and student doctor.

I'm sure teachers have the worse deal. When a medical student friend of mine began his course, he was given a dead body on which to practise. No such luck for us student teachers. How nice it would have been to practise on a class of lifeless pupils for the first few lessons.

Schools are really very like hospitals. In both institutions, the people they are there to serve mostly don't want to be there. The doctors are fortunate in that they can help those in to get out. They know that if they do their job well and cure a particularly grumpy patient they will soon see the back of that person. Teachers are less fortunate. That little so-and-so from Year 9 will be back every Friday from now until what seems like eternity.

So how widespread is this phenomenon of students doing time in the real environment? Architects have to spend time in a professional office, but surely they start out by making the tea and passing the coloured pencils? I think it's the same in the legal world. Surely teaching is the only profession that throws its newest recruits straight in at the deep end? Perhaps drama students would argue this. But where's the difference? The other day I heard an old stager in the staffroom grumbling about luvvies who moan about their fees for a couple of hours' work. "Well, I'm on stage for five hours every day," he griped.

And what about the police? What about firemen? What do the county's firefighters do in their first few weeks of training? Surely they aren't sent out to do battle with great infernos, the teaching equivalent of taking Year 9 after lunch on Friday?

And what about the uniform? Our medical counterparts really get to look the part, sporting flashy white coats, stethoscopes draped significantly around their necks. But what do teachers get? I suppose the freedom to choose their own attire, but what is the teacher's equivalent of the stethoscope?

Early in my school placement, I was applauded by a teacher for striding downthe corridor with several large files under my arm. "Well done. You've learned the first lesson on looking busy," she said.

I have since added a sharp pencil, twitching in my fingers, but I would still rather have a stethoscope.

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

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