Rookie mistakes

19th June 2015 at 01:00

I was nearly at my door when the racket in the cloakroom suddenly ceased. Clearly Helen had got there first. Helen is a trainee working with our year group and she's proving to be something of a godsend.

I like having student teachers. They take up a fair bit of time, but the benefits mostly outweigh the drawbacks. Their lessons vary greatly in quality but I've been fortunate to have hosted some pretty good future teachers over the years (including one so brilliant that I was the one scribbling down notes in her lessons). I was also mentor to Jamie.

Jamie came to me for his first ever teaching placement. As a first-year student on an education degree, he was barely out of school himself - and it showed. Jamie spent a lot of time looking at his shoes or out of the window. He struggled with the pupil-teacher transition and would leap out of his chair when I told the class to stand up and sometimes call out answers to questions. He was reluctant to enter the staffroom and, on one occasion, put up his hand to ask if he could go to the toilet.

Jamie clearly needed some help fitting into his new role so I started giving him small groups, reminding him that he was the teacher and his job was to explain the task and help the children to complete it. After a week or so I decided he was ready to teach solo so I sent him to the library to lead a small design technology lesson. Half an hour later one of the children came back to tell me that Sam and Ashley had been throwing books. I found Jamie happily ensconced on a beanbag, sewing Ashley's bookmark, oblivious to the fact that two children just feet away were vying to see who could skim atlases the furthest.

We summoned Jamie's tutor and expressed our concerns. She agreed that he wasn't the most promising candidate but asked if we would help him to do some whole-class teaching. I planned some simple, tightly structured lessons with him and stationed myself within glaring distance of the livelier members of the class. It was not a success. In maths, he asked "the bottom table" if they would come and sit on the carpet. In history, he couldn't work the DVD player and ended up with half the class out of their seats "helping" him. For his final lesson, he brought in his guitar to teach singing. He had a nice voice but also a habit of closing his eyes (not advisable when you're in charge of a group of 10-year-olds).

We phoned the tutor again. We said Jamie couldn't do any more whole-class teaching but agreed to keep him until the end of the placement. He started to improve a bit and managed to take some reading and maths groups. On his last day, I decided to reward the children with lollies. There at the end of the line was Jamie, rucksack on his back, hand extended. I paused before handing him a lollipop.

"Good luck with the rest of the course," I said.

"Thanks, Miss," he replied.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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