Jon Croose is only slightly mad

7th April 2000 at 01:00
So, you want to be a teacher. Well, teaching costs, and right here is where you start paying - in sweat. Something strange happens when you tell people you are training to be a teacher. They take a long look at you, grimace and say: "God, I could never do that for a living. All those horrible kids. And the pay's crap, isn't it?" Then they ask you the fateful question: "Why on earth are you doing it? You must be crazy."

They have a point. Apparently, the whole world thinks that if you are a teacher you have to be mentally unstable. Oh, it's a terribly worthwhile job and all that, but there are so many easier ways to earn a crust. Even David Blunkett and Chris Woodhead think we are all a bunch of loons, and they are supposed to be on our side, aren't they? Oops! Silly me. What am I thinking? I must be mad.

You become so focused on "proper" teaching during your PGCE that it is easy to lose your personality in the battle to get it right. By the end of last term, I was so burned out I could hardly tie my own laces. I had lost my sense of humour and was constantly anxious and tired. All in all, I felt mad and had the look of the classic stressed-out teacher.

And I'm not the only one. I know student teachers who have developed a positively Thatcherite attitude to sleep - three hours a night in order to get the planning done. I know of one scientist chap who has left teaching to return to a career in bomb-making - yes, bomb-making - because it is less stressful and pays more.

As the year goes on, the drop-out rate increases, the most common complaint being: "I don't have a life any more. My entire lifeis swallowed up by teaching. I feel like a robot. I just don't feel like I'm me any more." Whatever our reasons for going into teaching - and it probably isn't the pay or conditions - we don't do it because we want to turn into robots running a machine to produce other robots.

We are humans, and most humans are a little crazy. I like to think that my own brand of mild insanity adds a certain spice to my English lessons which the kids actually enjoy. I'm not one of those trendy "Hey kids, call me Jon" type of teachers, but once the work is done I like to make jokes, have a laugh and find out about pupil gossip. I enjoy moving the desks, having debates and playing games of What's Hot, What's Not? Preparation is the key to success, but I also like winging it - sometimes - because you learn that way, too.

One of my Year 9s said to me recently: "You're weird, Sir. We never know what you will come up with next." I took that to be a compliment. It means they are interested infinding out.

Think back to your own education. The teachers you remember are the ones who were the most human. Some teachers had you sitting in rows, in silence, copying endless notes from the board. Others spread out the note-taking and made time for a more flexible approach. They introduced you to their strange explorer friends with tales from around the world, or had you playing weird drama games or making mild explosions in the science labs just for a laugh. Great stuff. Human stuff.

So that's my mantra for the new term. I may be mad, but I ain't no robot.

Jon Croose is studying for a PGCE at Bristol university

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