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When induction ends in tears

Your PGCE is finally in the bag - you are a qualified teacher, and nobody can take that away from you. Or can they? Ian Emmerson with some words of warning.

If you are newly qualified, you feel like you can put enormous pressures behind you. No more being observed by all and sundry, day in, day out. The weight of that meticulously-kept folder, containing comprehensive lesson plans, top-copy resources, in-depth evaluations, observation sheets and reports, can find a place in the corner in which to gather dust.

You look forward to the time when you have more autonomy, when you can organise lesson plans your way.

Finally, it is you who will be in control. Not that you expect to let the whole thing slide - it is just that everyone tells you: "It gets easier every year," or "Teaching practice is the hardest year you'll ever have to put in."

Of course, you believe them. After all, they should know. Also, it seems to make sense. Your resources are constantly being stockpiled for later use. There is more flexibility - you are no longer policed around the clock, searching for ways of finding evidence of certain skills - and, of course, practice makes you much more confident, so that the prospect of walking into a classroom or raising your voice no longer leaves you sweaty-palmed and shaky.

You no longer have to fit academic assignments into your already stretched timetable. Everything will be, as they say, sweet as a nut. No year will be as hard as the PGCE year. If it were, you probably wouldn't do the job.

You probably vaguely resent the amount of work you have to put into the course. You probably resent slightly the policing you have - Big Brother is watching you. All this work and all this scrutiny, however, are there for a very good reason: this is called "support" and, believe me, you'll miss it when it goes.

My partner and I did teaching practice at the same time, though at different schools in the same area. Our early courtship was mostly spent in her tiny room, bouncing lesson plans around or proofreading one another's assignments till the wee small hours. We were both confident that it would get better once we were doing it for real (and getting paid for it, which at the time nobody did).

The time came when we did get our respective jobs, and the first shock to our system was that the workload actually increased. Again we found ourselves staying up through the evening throwing around lesson ideas. This was all we had known, and it carried with it a sense of normality.

I did have it easier than my partner in one respect: she still had folder to complete, her NQT induction programme being even more rigorous than her PGCE.

I did not. The pressures of suddenly having a full timetable, plus pastoral duties, seemed light compared with this.

It was how I had imagined it: schemes of work already laid out, nobody sniffing when I used a textbook instead of a complicated, home-designed resource, nobody to check on my every move, my classroom was my own. Bliss! She envied me my light induction workload until later in the year when she became the object of envy. As she was quietly having "excellent" boxes ticked and signed in triplicate, I was arriving at school to discover three of my lessons were to be observed, because the paperwork was due and I hadn't had my termly quota.

For me the end was messy; for her it was a breeze. Eventually, I failed and she passed. Some of you may be saying: "Why don't you just repeat the year and do it again?" The answer is that once you fail your induction, you can't do it again. You only get one attempt at induction, and if you fail it, you cannot teach.

It's as simple as that. Hence this word of warning. If an established teacher is seen as ineffective, it appears to be common - for appearances' sake - not to fire them, but to promote them out of harm's way. No such mercy for the NQT. If you cock up, you're out.

It is your legal right to a decent induction programme, yet it is your responsibility to ensure that you get it. If things seem amiss, complain. Do not simply assume that the school knows what it is doing - it is a sad fact, but some do not.

Probation has only recently been reintroduced, and some schools have not yet worked out how to deal with the new legislation effectively. It is getting better, and failure is, thankfully, rare, but you must ensure you are not one of the few. If that line-manager dismisses your concerns as trivial and low-priority, it may seem easier to keep quiet and not bother them again, and it may seem a relief after the hurly-burly of teaching practice to be ignored for once, but the only one who will eventually suffer for this is you. Schools are funded to give you adequate support, and although it is usually a burden, it is support. Take it. Demand it. As I sit watching my partner marking or preparing lessons each evening, I feel a pang. The workload never gets easier, but I still miss it. My advice: work hard, assert your rights, enjoy it.

Ian Emmerson lives in Milton Keynes. He first wrote about failing his induction year in Friday magazine (November 17, 2000). He is now a part-time adult learning tutor

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