My girlfriend put down the phone, smiled, and cried: "I'm in." She had just been accepted to study for a postgraduate certificate in education. Then suddenly the smile faded, she looked at me, and said gravely: "Sweetheart, you realise this means that I won't have a life for the next year". Yeah, yeah, I thought, that's what they all say. It's only like being at university, surely?
There was an almost universal reaction from our family and friends when she told them she wanted to be a teacher: "You must be mad." So nothing like a confidence boost before you even start then. I must admit that I too had a few reservations at first, but over the past few months I have altered my view of teachers.
It didn't take me long to understand just how much work goes into that nine-month PGCE. We only have a small two-bedroom house but the spare room has already been overtaken as the unofficial study. There are newspapers, magazines and books everywhere. I now sport several bruised toes from kicking books as every morning, bleary-eyed, I negotiate this literary obstacle course to get to my wardrobe. It's like having children. There is mess everywhere, my girlfriend is always asking questions which I couldn't possibly answer and, despite her protestations at the start that she would never do it, I am now constantly bemused by teacher-speak. Acronyms and new words come flying at me from all directions. NQT, SATs, DARTS, SEN, key stage 3, the new year numberings. She even talks to me like I'm a class of Year 9s, which I hope is only because she is constantly on teacher mode.
As a kid you don't really think much about teachers, they're just there, and there to make you work and suffer. They come into the class, teach, and you take it for granted that they know everything. Until now, I had never appreciated how much work and planning goes into each lesson. The list of essays, presentations and lesson plans seems endless and sometimes I can barely see her behind her pile of books. Apparently, many who fail or drop out of PGCE do so because there is no support at home. Seeing what she has to do I can understand why. A constant stream of hot tea and a shoulder massage are almost part of our daily routine now, and after each day in the classroom we wil have a debriefing, often over a medicinal glass of wine, particularly as she unwinds from the rowdy Year 10s, last period.
We talk about the topics she has to teach and ideas for her lessons and at times I almost feel as though I am doing the PGCE with her. She is constantly thinking about teaching, about her lesson plans and ways to make topics more interesting and fun. Her dedication is wonderful to see. The bags under her eyes less so. Previously shared chores are now the sole responsibility of me. Well OK, that's perhaps a bit harsh, but my culinary skills have improved markedly since September. I sometimes suspect that hidden inside her copy of The TES is the latest Cosmo or Marie Claire as she maintains the illusion of being busy while letting me struggle with the spaghetti. I now realise that when she said: "I won't have a life," she actually meant: "We won't have a life." I haven't told her yet but when she's finished her PGCE, I'm going to give up work and write that novel I always said I would.
The thing that really brought it home to me was waking up at 5am, with her side of the bed cold and empty, to hear the unmistakable clicking sound of keys on the computer. I had fallen asleep at midnight while she was typing and when I woke up she was still working. In fact, she didn't finish until 7am but, unlike at university, where you can hand in your essay then go home and crash out, she had to go into college for a full day of lectures, and all this on top of giving up a full-time job and surviving on one wage.
For the past few months, I have been spending one lunchtime a week going to a local primary to help the children with their reading. This has given me a tiny insight into what she is doing. One image that has stayed with me is seeing four children mobbing a teacher. They were grabbing hold of her and crying excitedly: "We love you, we want you to always be our teacher." The teacher stood there and smiled at me, as if to say: "It's days like these that make it all worthwhile." Then, yesterday, I had to break up a fight between two Year 5s, at great peril to my shins. I think I'm beginning to understand what being a teacher is all about.
Nigel Youds is a legal administrator for United Business Media