You don't have to be nuts to work here...

7th February 1997 at 00:00
Whether nightmare or farce, teaching practice is an unforgettable experience, says Carol Hedges. Watch out for windy weather, I was told by an old hand on my first day. "They always go hyper when it's windy." Yeah, right, tell me about it. They also go hyper when it rains or snows, when somebody has a nosebleed, there's an unexpected room change and the moon is full.

Teaching practice. Bet you still remember yours. Or maybe you don't.

Maybe you've forgotten that awful moment of total panic when you faced your first class and realised that although you were only "practising", they were doing it for real. One of the students on my PGCE course was so nervous that she tried to mark the register with her pen held upside down, and was subsequently too scared to turn it around in case any of the kids noticed. It also didn't help that her mentor was sitting at the back of the classroom, helpless with laughter.

Then there was the Nightmare Class. We've all had one. Mine was a Year 7 group who all seemed to be called Craig and had not successfully made the transition from primary to secondary. Once I'd made the necessary mental adjustment, we got on fine, but it took me the whole seven weeks of my placement to figure it out.

And there was the fine tuning. We all lacked fine tuning. I expect you have to be a music student to get that right. I know I spent a lot of time carefully writing estimated times on my lesson plans only to discover that something planned to take five minutes usually took 15, whereas a worksheet that was supposed to last for a whole lesson got completed after 20 minutes, leaving a class sitting expectantly waiting for the next piece of work.

Looking back, I think the best lessons were those where I abandoned the lesson plan altogether and just freewheeled through the 50 minutes.

There was the time I carefully packed up a class and had them all standing quietly behind their chairs waiting for the bell . . . only to realise that I'd mistimed it and we actually had 10 minutes of the lesson left. But, hey, at least I always knew where my lot were.

Another of my fellow students "lost" a Year 8 class - by the time he'd located them, they had gone into riot mode and he was forced to call in reinforcements to deal with them.

Best piece of advice I've received? "We all get it wrong sometimes . . ."

And the least helpful? "I don't know why you're going into teaching, you must be mad."

So to all those mentors, heads of departments and long-suffering class teachers out there who have another batch of students (including me) descending on them for their second practice, can I say, on behalf of us all: "Thanks for having us and yes, we do realise that it's not the same profession that it was 20 years ago - and no, we're not nuts, we really want to do this job."

Even if our fine tuning is not always all it should be. But hey, that's why you're there, isn't it?

Carol Hedges is a PGCE student at the University of Hertfordshire.

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