You can do it

8th August 2003 at 01:00
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You can never be too prepared - or surprised, says Neil Levis

Few people could have had a more difficult start to their career than Jeff, in his second year teaching English on Merseyside. And he was so well-prepared, too.

His parents bought him a laptop to ensure he did not waste time copying endless class-lists. He would plug into the school's admin console, download and concentrate on creative lesson-planning. Some hopes.

Day one went well. Then on day two, in his first lesson with a sink-stream Year 11, he discovered the shortcomings of the special needs department. As the feisty lads and lasses took their places, in walked a classroom assistant pushing a wheelchair. On it lay Yusuf, whose only means of communication was a head-pointer. Some rapid rethinking of the lesson plan was called for - especially as Yusuf's arrival enraged those pupils who felt they should be in a higher set.

Then the shadow of Ofsted loomed for the third week. While the inspectors did their work, two bodies were found on the premises - one, a drug addict who had overdosed, managed to resurrect himself, but the other, a prostitute's client who died on the job, was not so lucky.

And the theme of death did not go away: by half-term, one of his Year 8 pupils had died of a brain haemorrhage, and at Christmas, Yusuf, a paraplegic, suffered a fatal asthma attack. They don't tell you about this sort of thing on your PGCE course.

Jeff's school is not a madhouse, but it is a tough place to work. Some staff fail to measure up, but many perform heroically. Jeff is among the latter. He has gained two management points and is confident that his teaching makes a difference.

He's been through lots of self-doubt - am I locked into this career too soon? What happened to my social life? - but he has learned the hardest lesson of all: always expect the unexpected.

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