Small beginnings

29th October 1999 at 01:00
Peter Mortimore, Director, London University Institute of Education - "I began my teaching career in a small, highly-streamed, secondary modern school in south London in 1964. Thrown on the mercies of pupils in the lowest streams, I had to learn the lessons of pedagogical survival the hard way.

"I discovered that my own trepidation was all too easily projected on to the classes and that, conversely, confidence could serve as a positive model for anxious pupils. All that was needed was the belief in oneself. I also learned that pupils who had been written off as 'thick' in terms of their school work could display considerable intelligence and sensitivity in the things that mattered to them.

"My most challenging class came last thing on a Thursday afternoon and the occasional closure for elections provided a welcome respite. On one such day, I took my young family to London Zoo. As we walked through the gates, we were greeted by: " 'ello sir!" I "That your wife?" I "Those your kids?" from the very pupils from whom I thought I had escaped. Needless to say, they accompanied us all afternoon and helped with our children with great enthusiasm and care.

"I am still grateful to those south Londoners for the way they taught me to see what was below the aggressive bravado and to become a real teacher."

* Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary, NASUWT - "I did what was possibly the first school-based training course, though nobody called it that. It was 1969, when you could become a qualified teacher without a professional qualification. I'd done some EFL (English as a foreign language) teaching abroad, but it was my first full year of teaching. I was in a London school and I decided to do an external PGCE with London University. I was reading all these wonderful books, but I soon realised that there was a dichotomy between the theory and the practice.

Kids are kids, it's human nature and you very quickly realised that you had to impose your will or they would impose theirs. Everyone warned me about one particular tearaway and, when I had to teach him, I said: "You look like the most intelligent person in this room - come and sit at the front." Nobody had used that approach on him. It worked and I had no problems with him.

"I think I had a good first experience of the job. There was a simple appraisal, a bureaucracy-free approach. There were about six criteria. I got a very good report at the end of the year.

"I've always been a very strong supporter of school-based training - my first speech to conference called for a more practical approach to training."

* Tamsyn Imison, Headteacher, Hampstead School - "I owe a great debt to my tutor, Dr Eileen Oldfield. She was an outstanding tutor who really drilled me in the skills I needed as a new teacher.

"The first time I met a bottom-stream Year 11 group, I asked what I was to teach them and I was told: "Just keep them in the room!" When I went in to teach them they were smoking and behaving badly I I had no guidance and I decided that the only answer was to pretend that they were my favourite group.

It took about a term, but they did in fact become my favourite group. I had to tightly structure the lessons and carefully put them in their place but, in the end, they did wonderful work. I've kept some of their books. They all passed - I was very proud of them."

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