Out of this world

15th August 1997 at 01:00
Chrysta Garnett faces harsh reality as the memories of her PGCE course fade fast.

Hilary Wilce describes the tortuous juggling parents have to endure as the six-week (at least) summer holiday gets under way ("Last Word", TES, July 4). More to the point, what about the hundreds of newly-qualified teachers who have recently finished their PGCE courses with the promise of employment, come September?

For us, the interminable summer "holidays" began way before the end of June. As most PGCE modular programmes are structured in such a way that it would be hard to reach, say, April, in the PGCE year not knowing whether you were going to pass or not, most of us have been existing in that peculiar twilight zone that they call "Not Quite Teacher".

We knew it would be a question of time, devoutly hanging on in there - crossing the weeks off as the final teaching practice came to an end. But what now? We've had the farewell dinners with the department from school, the signed cards wishing us luck in our future careers (some through gritted teeth), the presents (a posh pen I know I will lose in the first week of September) and the drunken haze of a PGCE party.

Mid-February, nursing the billionth cold of the academic year, I had prayed for June - and, strangely, for my DFEE number as if it were some secret password that would allow me to pass through the hallowed doors of school as a "proper" teacher. But what now? September is an ominous dot on the horizon.

We are now left with time to think. To reflect upon the last year - the triumphs and the downfalls. To doubt. Can I really do it? To panic. Can I get into my school during the summer? What books are in their cupboards? Do I need to take my own jar of Nescafe? To socialise. "Remember me? We were friends a year ago - but now all I can talk about is teaching." To work.

To work? Yes, to work. On reflection, the whole PGCE experience has been vaguely "other worldly". Last September I left my uninspiring secretarial job to face a new challenge.

Ten months later I am back in front of a pile of typing, a long-lunching and overweight boss and a sign that instructs me to "Take pride in answering a telephone call".

What has happened? I am hugely in debt and have been forced back into the 9 to 5 city workforce for the summer in an attempt to fend off various final demands and overdraft charges.

The memory of my teaching practice is fading fast - like the memory of trauma victims who manage to block out particularly grisly events, recoverable only by expensive therapy sessions.

I faintly remember being abducted by a strange alien life form. There were large, unruly groups of them, about 5ft tall, smelling of body odour and hormones. Their leader was bespectacled and flustered, and could often be heard muttering about some more powerful body called the "senior management team" which he regularly convened with.

They conducted experiments on me - closely observing my sensitivity to pain as elastic bands were fired at me from great distances at the back of the classroom. And they forced me to eat a bizarre-coloured custard-like substance that they concocted in all the vibrant colours of the rainbow...

I am recovering from the whole experience with the luxury of late nights, weekends off, a stress-free working day that ends at 5pm on the dot and, of course, money.

Chrysta Garnett lives in Bristol

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