I stand by my choice to swap careers

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Half way through the PGDE primary course at Jordanhill, former journalist Arlene Kelly has not swayed from her "insane" decision to become a teacher

Around this time last year, after almost five "interesting"

years in journalism, I'd had what can only be described as an epiphany. The gods of education had spoken and turned me from sceptical naysayer into education evangelist almost overnight.

"You're out of your tiny mind" was the reaction of one highly supportive friend when I announced that I was to embark on a career in teaching.

Everyone was suddenly an expert, stepping forward to offer opinions, whether I wanted them or not. I had patently lost the plot. Didn't I read the papers I had been writing for? The education system was quite obviously on its knees. Teachers, as a breed, were out of touch and weird. Demonic, out of control children would terrorise me daily. The crammed curriculum would steal my sanity and I would be overworked, powerless and frustrated in a never-ending nightmare of paperwork and political correctness.

Oh, and that was only if Jordanhill's legendary PGDE primary course (widely rumoured to be a year of absolute hell on Earth) didn't break me first.

The revelation that my transition would be completed in one year instead of four was, it seemed, a step too far. Everyone knew someone's sister's cousin who had been on it and failed.

What nonsense. I'd had death threats in my previous job. How difficult could it really be to teach a bunch of primary children for a few hours a day?

The first time I stood alone in front of a class of unruly 9-year-olds, some of whom decided to ignore me completely, I realised. Now, more than half way through the dreaded "year of hell", I understand the well-intended warnings.

The PGDE, while enough to make any sane person tear their hair out in a fit of psychotic anxiety, is something of a double-edged sword. A whistle-stop tour of the world of education, it is wholly deserving of its reputation as an endurance test of epic proportions. However, despite the hype, periods of extreme intensity are balanced with relative calm.

With an excellent support system and a class teacher who was an inspiration, I felt pushed to the brink while on placement, both physically and mentally. My confidence in shreds and weight plummeting, I began to question my judgment and doubt my ability.

Life as I once knew it was suddenly no more. My family and friends considered placing missing person's posters as I disappeared under a deluge of lesson plans and evaluations. Stomach-churning placement critiques, completed under the shadow of impending essays, assignments and presentations, permeated my dreams. For a while I felt as if I had morphed into Sonia from EastEnders, inanely muttering to anyone who would listen that I just had SO much work to do.

Yet, despite the stress, there is room for manoeuvre. On campus, some weeks are quite relaxed and no one chooses to stay late every night. With time to catch up on work, it can even be, dare I say it, very enjoyable.

Listening to the amount of whingeing that goes on in some quarters, you could be forgiven for thinking we had been sentenced to a year's hard labour in a chain gang. There are moans about lectures, tutors, course content, the placement process, workload, placement teachers. They're tired. It's raining ...

But show me a perfect student. How about the endearing trainee who stood up in the middle of a lesson and told a teacher with 20 years' experience that she was "doing it wrong"? Or the party girl who had to make an emergency call to the ladies' room minutes before her first lesson - and that wasn't just down to nerves?

Recent chat about being a "real teacher" has been accompanied by nervous laughter. With the nursery placement over, the eight-week infant placement (rumoured to be even worse) looms large.

The end of the course is hurtling towards us, the fear factor has kicked in and internal clocks are ticking. In three months we will (fingers crossed) be qualified teachers, accountable for the education of some of the nation's youngsters. Responsibility has suddenly taken on new meaning.

Despite talk about the PGDE being resented and inferior to the BEd, some experienced teachers freely admit that if they had to complete the course now, they could be in danger of failing to retain their job. I would challenge anyone to prove a BEd student is better qualified or prepared.

Qualified, prepared, experienced, or not, anyone can be a bad teacher. I'm worried about trying to be an excellent one. I know that isn't about to get easier any time soon, but I stand by my choice. Even if I am out of my tiny mind.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today