On the starting blocks

5th September 2008 at 01:00
Standing in front of your own class for the first time can be terrifying. Hannah Frankel and Emma Seith talk to three teachers at the beginning of their careers

Heather Scott, 22

2004-07: Law degree, University of Manchester

2007-08: Primary PGCE, University of Manchester

From September 2008: Year 5 teacher at Canon Burrows Church of England Primary School in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

I wasn't planning on being a teacher. I started a law degree at Manchester University but knew within the first two weeks that it wasn't for me.

I'd always had a nagging feeling about teaching. My mum was a special needs teacher and I used to enjoy going into school with her and helping out. Then, when I was in the sixth form, I was given the job of making new pupils in Year 7 feel welcome and at home, and it just felt right.

My dad was disappointed when I told him that I wanted to be a teacher instead of a lawyer, but he's accepted it now. He's seen how happy teaching makes me and how doing something I enjoy has improved my health. When I was studying for my law degree, I got glandular fever and had bad asthma. Now I'm working harder than I have in my life, I don't need my inhaler and feel great.

I was excited and apprehensive before I started the PGCE. I'd never been a teaching assistant and felt young and inexperienced compared with the other trainees, although I found the lectures and essays easier to cope with than most.

I struggled with the lack of technology in my first placement. I presumed that there would be interactive whiteboards and things like that, but the school only had three computers that didn't work. It was frustrating not to put my skills into practice, but it forced me to use my imagination.

I used to try to emulate other teachers, but now I'm gradually building up my own teaching style and taking more risks.

I have also learnt the power of constructive praise. I know it's the caricature of a primary teacher to lay it on thick, but I've seen what a great incentive it can be.

When I went into Canon Burrows for a few days at Easter, I was immediately struck by its great ethos. We went on a trip to the local church and I was impressed how every Year 6 pupil took responsibility for looking after the reception children.

But the clincher was observing a Sats booster class. Instead of looking through past papers, the teacher brought in a live mackerel and they saw for themselves how it adapts to its environment.

Tom Hancock, 22

2004-07: Sports amp; physical education BSc, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff

2007-08: Secondary PGCE in PE, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff

From September 2008: PE teacher at Cardiff High School

I'm pretty obsessed with sport - I play semi-professional rugby, swim to quite a high standard and play football and athletics as well - but I was always fairly sure I wanted to teach PE as opposed to make sport my life.

My sister did a PGCE three years before me so I knew it was going to be a tough year, but I was still shocked by the amount of work there was to do. Spending four days a week in school preparing and teaching lessons, plus one day a week in university going to lectures and writing essays was a huge jump for me in terms of workload.

The school placements were what made the year for me. I learnt so much every day. In my first school my mentor was giving me twos (good) or threes (satisfactory) for my teaching, but by the end of the second placement I got ones (excellent) across the board.

I was pleased with the way my teaching improved, especially in terms of classroom management and discipline. Both school placements were in rough areas, but it got easier once I'd established a relationship with the children and learnt how to fit the lessons together.

In my second placement I worked hard on my knowledge and understanding, especially in terms of cricket and some fields of athletics. It was a big learning curve, but I learnt so much from the young, enthusiastic teachers.

I'd always assumed that I'd find the practical work more rewarding than the theory, but there's a different relationship in the classroom. Working with the GCSE and A-level pupils (all in Welsh), was really fulfilling.

I was over the moon at getting the job with Cardiff High School. Apparently 54 people applied for the PE post, so I was amazed I got it. I live in Cardiff, so I know the school has a good reputation.

The pupils are friendly, respectful and they want to learn - I get that sense more than anywhere else I've taught. There are 1,400 pupils, but the teachers seem to know them all. They have such good relationships with the pupils, partly because they devote so much time to after-school activities. The teachers really care and the pupils pick up on that and respond. That's the kind of teacher I'm going to try to be.

Alison Adams, 24

2001-05: BA Hons drawing and painting, Edinburgh College of Art

2006-07: Secondary PGDE in art and design, Glasgow University

From August 2008: Art and design teacher, St Mungo's High School in Falkirk

I was leaning towards becoming a teacher when I was in high school. One of my teachers - an art teacher - inspired me. He was open and helpful and had genuine concern for his pupils. What clinched it for me though was my year out. After art school I worked in an office for a year and I didn't find it fulfilling.

I was a nervous wreck before I started my postgrad. I have dyslexia and knew the course was hard, that I'd have essays to write and I was concerned I wasn't going to manage my time effectively. But it worked out and I did manage, although it was stressful at times.

My tutor at Glasgow University was fantastic and at art school I had a computer for writing essays. In the class, like any other teacher, I just have to be really organised.

In the beginning I found time management challenging. Halfway through my first placement I thought my world was caving in. While I could do a drawing in a particular time and it came out looking a certain way, that's not necessarily the way it worked in class. Something that took me three hours took the pupils 15 minutes and vice versa. But I built up a stack of lesson extension plans and slowly I fell into step.

I'm lucky to be going back to work in the school where I carried out my probation. I had a fantastic experience there last year. When I started I was quickly accepted as a member of the team and became fully involved. Going back makes that initial step just that bit more comfortable. I'm still nervous, but I think I'll always have these nerves - it keeps you on your toes.

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