It's tough at the bottom

7th March 1997 at 00:00
A friend of mine said recently, "You are so lucky being a student again. " "You're bloody joking" I replied. The life of a trainee teacher is a far cry from the hedonistic life of an undergraduate.

A typical day starts at 6am and involves travelling up to 30 miles to your placement school where you have to act as a member of staff while being referred to as "the Student", as in "I'm too busy, can't the Student do it?" You spend the day balancing precariously between roles of class teacher and trainee. Panicking about lesson plans, classroom management, the national curriculum, key stages, differentiation, Standard Assessment Task scores, bullying, assessment procedures and providing written evidence that you have achieved all this.

The bell goes at 3.30 but it's not over yet - no propping up the student union bar for us. Faculty meetings, drama clubs, school plays, parent's evenings, open evenings, extra training sessions, marking, detentions - if you are lucky you reach home in time for the end of Neighbours. Beans on toast, a cup of tea and back to your desk to prepare for a repeat performance the following day.

Come Fridays its back to student life. The day is spent in lectures, seminars, practical workshops, meetings and discussions.

The intensive nature of the PGCE course is well documented and students anticipate a heavy schedule. What they do not expect is the inconsistencies and frustrations of life as a student-teacher hybrid.

The first indication that life as a post-graduate student would be different came in induction week. Our isolation from the relaxed undergraduates was evident in the echoing of our lonely footsteps as we headed towards the education building a full month before the start of the university term. We looked eagerly towards the benefits of being a student once more - joining clubs and societies, enjoying organised events and indulging in a cheap pint on campus (necessary on a Pounds 600 a term grant). But it was not to be. We were too early. Rather than welcome us with open arms the National Union of Students told us to "come back in October".

For two thirds of the year we are expected to act as professionals and take on the work of a teacher. We are expected to dress accordingly, provide materials for lessons and travel to our schools - all of which saps our meagre funds. The reality is most of us are living close to the bread line.

It is predicted that by the year 2000 the country will have a 50 per cent shortage of teachers. Looking around my course I could also predict that 50 per cent fewer people will be able to afford to train as teachers. Until teacher training is recognised as training for professionals and is funded as such there will be fewer and fewer trainees willing to incur debts of up to Pounds 8,000 to achieve qualified teacher status.

The writer is training to be a teacher in Sussex

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