Learn from my mistakes

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Twenty years ago I was a know-it-all teenager who thought school was about socialising, fooling around and generally having fun. After all, what could anyone teach me? I knew everything.

In primary school, constant bullying made my life a misery. For the first couple of years of secondary school I kept my head down and made some good friends but I still wasn't popular. Suddenly I realised that the less I worked and the more I played, the more friends I made. So by my third year I transformed from a diligent, quiet, shy pupil to the rebellious, defiant, attention-seeking character that is every teacher's nightmare. Finally at 16 and with a handful of GCSEs (which I burned) I left school and home.

Eight years later, after returning to adult education and spending time in the pharmaceutical industry, I decided I wanted to teach. I had all the right attributes: love of my subject (science) and a big love and empathy for teenagers.

My first placement has been an enlightening experience. Like most members of the public I had read, heard and seen stories of our failing education system, our overworked, burnt-out teachers and our destructive, drug-taking teenagers. However, most pupils are good and don't cause trouble. The ones that do make the press are not bad, just confused, and it's no wonder. Our children have the stress of constant exams, Sats, league tables, family breakdown and poverty. And how confusing it must be that at school you rule (there are more rules for teachers than for children), yet when you go outside you can get slapped with an Asbo for the slightest thing.

Children need boundaries and I am sure I will be strict as a teacher. Why? I want them to learn, not just science but that my way was the hard way (and I have the tattoos and piercings to prove it). Education here is free and it is the way out of poverty - make the most of it.

So to all who thought I was mad when I quit my job to teach (and I probably am) this is the best decision I have ever made. I love the fact that I am finally getting into a career where I know I will enjoy what I do and hopefully prevent others from making the same mistakes that I did.

Cheryl Mitchell is studying for a secondary science PGCE with the Open University

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