No one warned me it would be this much fun

7th May 1999 at 01:00
Four teachers who began their first jobs last September talk to Frances Farrer about the challenges - and the enjoyment.

* Annie Howard, teaching biology, Bourneside School, Cheltenham

"The most surprising thing when I started was how much more of demanding it was to do 100 per cent of the timetable instead of the 40-50 per cent you have when you're training. Luckily, I had an excellent mentor who taught me organisation so I keep my files and resources in order and I'm better prepared than other people. I've kept all the worksheets and leaflets I've picked up, it's always useful. Good record-keeping also helps with the questions you get on parents' evenings.

"On my first full day I found I had no time for the little, detailed things. I didn't know where anything went - where to send the registers, where duty rotas go, how reprographics works - you're asking questions all the time. I was grateful for the sixth-form tutor group: they pointed me in the right directions. I am also well supported by my department, which is important.

"One of the things I didn't feel prepared for was exams. I've got an A-level group and I'm finding it quite stressful to get them ready. Also I didn't know anything about exam invigilation procedures, rules about desk setting, things like that.

"My advice? Engrave the lesson times on your brain before you start, and get to know everybody as quickly as possible. We've got a house head system - get to know them, it helps with discipline. Ask on your interview day about your induction programme and mentor.

"On the subject of discipline, if you say you're going to do something you must do it. They must respect you. If you say, 'do your homework on time or there's a detention,' you have to carry it through.

"And live at home. That way you get your meals, and your washing done. Makes all the difference when you're starting.

"If you ask me to sum up my feelings about teaching now, I love it."

* Jane Musgrave, Waingroves Primary School, Ripley, Derbyshire

"To begin with, the children helped me as much as I helped them. Classroom management took a bit of sorting but we worked as a team, they knew where to put things and we organised things together. They're full of ideas, a lovely class. I like their enthusiasm, they're so inquisitive.

"I would advise new teachers to make friends with all the staff, the caretaker and the secretary too, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't worry if it makes you sound silly. I thought I'd got to know everything on the first day but you don't. Keep a notepad with you and make lists of what you need to find out about so you don't forget.

"I used to find it hard to switch off, I was thinking about school all the time and it was difficult to sleep. Now I'm more settled. I play in a wind band every week and I make sure to keep it up. I think you need to separate some parts of your life so the job doesn't take you over. All round, everything is wonderful. The sense of achievement that I had when I got my PGCE has just increased with my work."

* Max Patrick, teaching music, Worcester Sixth Form College, Worcester

"My first induction day was the last day of the summer term and all the leaving teachers thanked their colleagues so sincerely that I was really impressed with the place and the way the staff worked together. For your post-graduate certificate in education course you do your own work but here there is total teamwork within the performing arts faculty. I wasn't prepared for how important human relationships would be.

"I trained to teach music but now I teach A-level performing arts and music. We have a very flexible department. You could get the dream job but have to do another subject that wasn't touched on in your training. Fortunately I had a range of performing experience. Go to interviews with an open mind, they may want more than one discipline.

"One of the shocks when I started was that my mentor was gone, the buffer between me and my students, and between me, my students and their parents, all of a sudden was not there. I've had to become the person who holds all those connections together. Management skills were stressed when I was training and I think they come in all the time.

"I've learned to keep records that are both accurate and sensitive to pupil's progress. You need to know precisely what everyone's doing because they work at different speeds, and you need to be aware and objective about it. At the moment my second-year sixth-form group are anxious about their composition deadline and I know I mustn't get drawn in. Actually, some of their compositions are so good you could publish them.

"I also have to maintain my own music-making. I teach really bright students. Most of them are in a youth or county band and I've got to be up to that level every lesson. It's a challenge to be consistent. I try to maximise practical music-making; assessing what people can play and forming groups that are sensitive to it. We have a four-part woodwind group who play recorders. They're grade eight and they win competitions on what are regarded as people's second instruments - but played world-class. We've also got some very able jazz and blues players so I set up a Motown band.

"Music is about investigating thoughts - as a performer, a composer, or simply a lover of music-making - with all the many other experiences to be gained from it. I'm so passionate about it I'll be here for pupils who want to use the facilities out of hours. I love it."

* Lizzie Griffiths, teaching maths, Gillotts School, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

"When you teach maths you have more choice over where you teach. By the end of my PGCE I'd developed a real enthusiasm for the subject. I did my teaching practice in a secondary modern. There were a lot more behavioural problems there - there's a strong feeling of 'we're hopeless'. I'd always go for a comprehensive system.

"Before I started I got two or three days to spend in my school and I was given the books and schemes of work. It was very helpful. You have to be confident - or at least appear to be. I'm much more confident than I was two terms ago.

"I used to try to get my class quiet for registration but now I give them reading or something to do. I also make them line up outside the classroom before they come in, it helps concentration. I mix the boys and girls at double desks, then they have to talk to whoever is next to them. They didn't like it at first, they wanted to sit with their friends. I give individual targets and rewards.

"My mentor helped me develop classroom management: someone else can point out your weaknesses more easily than you can see them yourself. I struggled a bit with older groups. I was giving an unconfident impression even with the way I sat.

"As so much maths is abstract kids say, 'what's the point' - they don't realise its future usefulness. You can explain that employers want maths and English but it doesn't work. But the skills of problem-solving and logical thinking are useful in all sorts of situations and I try to get them to see that.

"You have to learn to switch off at the end of a day otherwise you've got the stress of school all the time.

"Actually I've been surprised by how much I've enjoyed it. My aim was to make maths interesting, but I didn't expect it to happen - it's wonderful that it did."

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