Staying on the right track

13th January 1995 at 00:00
When students are away on teaching practice, do their lecturers simply shunt off to a quiet siding for a term? David Wright's diary holds another picture.

What does an education lecturer do, when the student-teachers are teaching in schools? When I was a student-teacher, long ago, I was convinced that my lecturer placed his students as far away from college as possible, to allow himself a whole term for travelling on intriguing branch-line railways before they were axed. He visited me for one 35-minute lesson in a whole term. I had hoped he would help me, because I had found it difficult to learn from the rather elderly teachers in the school. No such luck: I found his comments negative and unhelpful.

Have things got better since then? Today's students must be the judges of that. But perhaps a diary of one week in an education lecturer's life might provide a small piece of evidence for or against.

MONDAY An unscheduled walk on the beach: the class I had intended to visit was doing a test. After break, Year 8 has a good lesson with a talented student-teacher who should go far, fast. In fact, he'll have to - in his first post he will have to organise the geography teaching in a 12-18 school. Not long ago, this was the job that experienced teachers aspired to for a decade or more.

I rush to another school, eating my sandwiches as I go. Another very good student-teacher. Year 10 busily classify housing, with a variety of adjectives - I wonder how the pupils feel who live among the negative adjectives? Decide it's more tactful not to ask. Then a Year 9 post-test lesson. They are only fit for video-gazing and I escape to the beach again.

In the evening, I discover the local newspaper has headlined the church guide I am writing. Rush round to the neighbour with the good word-processor in an effort to speed it up. Environmental education has intriguing by-ways.

TUESDAY I meet 30 six-year-olds at their local medieval church. Fifty shining eyes and only ten glazed ones - is this an 83 per cent success-rate? Why can't we keep this enthusiasm as they grow older? We all touch and feel smooth flint and the rough limestone, and discover the fossils. Use the five senses and they remember and understand. Pure delight - the joys of teaching come flooding back into my grey "education-lecturer" personality Rush off to work and hunt for the inspector who is due to observe me observing a student-teacher. Presumably somebody, somewhere (a long way away) thinks that the HMI will observe a normal lesson. No way! We rush 25 miles and arrive just in time to enjoy some open-ended fieldwork in a pleasant and safe small-town shopping street. It's so open-ended it's almost open-started - but we all enjoy it, so why not? More will "stick" from this outing than from the average classroom lesson.

The second lesson is good, too. All three of us travel back together; the student-teacher is less cowed by the HMI than I am. His "pre-course preparation" included working in a steelworks and being paid (yes, paid) to go on a picket-line... perhaps that's why he can take everything in his stride so much better than I can.

WEDNESDAY Another small school, and the HMI writes lots of notes. Good lessons again, with another good student-teacher. Then a long slow journey past endless wheat and sugar beet to find the next school.

The clever ideas of "clusters" of schools for the new PGCE course, and putting lots of students in one school, seem delightfully impracticable and impossible round here. I try to help the inspector see that ideas hatched in the densely populated Home Counties may not work elsewhere.

And yet another good student! My expectations that the students would collapse under the strain of double observation are magnificently wrong.

The schools want to employ my students, too - so we can't be that bad. I hope the HMI overheard the earnest requests for help in filling their vacancies.

A long, long follow-up discussion with the inspector. Had we but world enough, and time (and energy, money). . . I recover with The Archers - the crisis over strawberry teas helps me to see that anything can and will become a crisis if you wish. So nothing needs to be a crisis either - not even a visit from HMI inspectors.

THURSDAY Yet another excellent student to see. They are all so much better than I was on my TPs. They have real rapport with kids - including some "difficult" ones. There's some originality and creativity today - what a pity the HMI is back in London. I must encourage this student to publish some of her excellent ideas - but where?

On the way home I enjoy a walk in some attractive woodland and reflect that supervision of teaching practice has its plus side.

FRIDAY The post brings me proofs of Focus on France to check: my hopes of a soothing weekend are dashed. Call in at the local high school where I am a parent-governor to see the GCSE art exhibition. Vigour, vitality, variety - I'm impressed.

The work of children I knew as "non-readers" eight years ago pleases me most of all. In pre-GCSE days they might have been labelled failures.

Then it's off to teach on an in-service primary science course. The teachers are impressed (or is it amazed?) that I have been working with six-year-olds only three days ago, rather than 20 years ago - I seem to be shattering some stereotypes.

Finally, I push pieces round. Are they circling more slowly than usual? Is there a "post-HMI withdrawal syndrome?" Memo: Can I teach early years, middle years, and secondary student-teachers next year? Try another memo: this one says I must spend 30 per cent of my time on research.

And the next - can I help eight-year-old pupils with a visit to a narrow-gauge railway? "Yes!" I leave all the memos in a big pile and go for a swim.

Changes in teacher-training plus worse staffstudent ratios mean student-teachers are likely to see less of their tutors this year - perhaps as little as I did, all those years ago.

If this happens, don't forget that you still have rights: you can ask for relevant help, and you can expect to get it. Perhaps that is where I went wrong as a student-teacher: I should have asked for advice, rather than waiting for negative criticism.

David Wright was an education lecturer in eastern England, and is now an Ofsted inspector and a freelance author.

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