One mistake and you're out

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Ian Emmerson passed his teaching practice with credit. But when he hit difficulties in his induction year, he found there were no second chances

My teaching practice was a good year for me. Although my survival depended on adrenaline and nervous energy and I didn't have enough food, sleep or money, I did rather well.

My interim report was glowing and by Christmas my future in teaching was looking rosy. My report included comments such as: "Ian has enormous potential to become a first-class teacher of English"; "Ian can become an outstanding teacher"; "What stands out most is Ian's deep sense of commitment to teaching". I was on a high. My second teaching practice flew by and my final report reflected the comments made in the interim report. I passed with flying colours.

My best friend on the course did not fare so well. Her first teaching practice had been solid enough, and she was under the impression that all was well with her second practice. It wasn't until the penultimate week that a panicked school told her she was failing. They hadn't given her enough time to work on the catalogue of what is euphemistically called "areas for development". Ultimately, she failed.

She was devastated, as were her family, and on graduation day she was greatly missed. It didn't feel right graduating without her. Many blamed the school, saying that it never really gave her the support she needed or the time to correct her "mistakes".

We also realised that because we had been in different schools, our experiences were all wildly different. This led to speculation that she may have passed if she had been in a different school and one of us may have failed if we had been in hers.

This story has a happy ending for her, though it does not end so satisfactorily for me. She went on to have another go, spending a term in a different school on her third teaching practice. This she passed easily, and as a result she graduated, albeit a term late, and now works in a school which has no complaints about her. The last I heard, she was doing an MA, funded by her school. Her probationary year was not a problem.

But my story is different. I moved to another part of the country and stated my induction year well enough. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, things began to deteriorate after Christmas, and by summer half-term I was floundering. Now, this is not a sour grapes story; I don't wish to apportion blame, but I could not help thinking that I may have had a better chance of passing in a different school.

Indeed, others on the staff told me this. But as I still hold my visitor's pass to the school and get on well with the staff and students, I don't want to point any fingers. For myriad reasons, I failed. I discovered much later that I could appeal, but decided against it.

So, although I do not contest the school's reasons for failing me, I do want to look at the consequences of this.

Unlike my university friend, I get no second chance; this is a one-shot deal. Despite the fact that I was well liked by staff, senior management team, students and parents alike, and despite the fact that my Year 9 Sats results were good, as were my GCSE results, and that the areas I failed on were possible to develop, I am prohibited to try to develop them. Unlike my university friend, I will never get the opportunity of discovering whether I would have fared better elsewhere.

I would have had the opportunity to take this up; there is, after all, a recruitment crisis. I have been called at home by no fewer than three schools, totally out of the blue, inviting me to "come in for a chat". They are aware of me through the grapevine, but not aware that I am legally prohibited. It is humiliating to have to tell them. I feel like a criminal, like some sex offender, not to be trusted with the nation's young. All I did was not reach a couple of targets.

If schools are as desperate as they sound, if the recruitment crisis is as bad as it is, why does the Government make it so difficult for people to hone their skills? I leave teaching reluctantly- forced out by legislation. If I had had this difficulty a year earlier, I would have suffered no more than my friend, but because my difficulties took place in my NQT year, I have to leave the profession permanently and acrimoniously. Where's the sense in that?

Ian Emmerson lives in Milton Keynes, Bucks

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