Three students from Brunel University on the PGCE course are coming to terms with the reality of teaching as a career. Last September Peri Coelho, Hannah Jeffreys and Doreen Lawson took their first steps towards qualifying as teachers. Now all three are fast approaching the end of the course.
"Don't let anybody tell you the course is easy. No one can tell you how hard it is until you do it yourself. But it has all been very worthwhile and very enjoyable," says Doreen Lawson, a geographer. Peri Coelho, a science student, agrees, "The course is hard, maybe not so much in its intellectual demands, but certainly in workload."
The students are now well into their final block teaching experience. "This block experience is much harder work," says Hannah Jeffreys, a maths student. "The planning is getting easier, but I am teaching a lot more classes."
For Peri, teaching at an independent school has given him a completely different experience to working in an inner city comprehensive. "I've worked just as hard here. It certainly isn't easier. I'm just as tired at night but the quality and direction of work has changed. Classroom management has become much less of an issue."
An interesting experience for Peri was the first ever inspection at the school. He escaped an inspection visit, but witnessed the impact on the school.
"It was a tense time for them. There were some well established teachers there who were not used to being observed. For me it would have been different, I'm now very used to it. I was a bit surprised at the high level of stress it caused in the school."
For Doreen Lawson the block teaching experience came as a bit of a shock:
"It makes the first experience look like child's play. There are many more classes to teach and soon I will be doing some sixth form teaching as well. It will be a challenge, but I am looking forward to it."
Finding a job is one of the extra pressures on trainee teachers at this time of the year. Students often look forward to the bumper issues of The TES, but it means extra paperwork, reading through the school information and filling in the application forms.
Hannah Jeffreys is lucky. There are plenty of jobs available for good maths teachers and she has already managed to secure a post starting in September. "I put in a few applications and was offered a few interviews, but one job really appealed to me, at Broomfield School in Enfield, north London."
Interviews are stressful, even when there are plenty of posts available, as in maths and science. Hannah had the added worry of having to teach a half-hour lesson on the day of the interview. "I can understand why they want candidates to do it, but it is quite harsh really. There were four shortlisted candidates at the interview and we had been given a choice of what we could teach on the day. It was a Year 7 mixed ability class and the lesson seemed to go well - I suppose it must have done as I got the job!" Like most job interviews, it took most of the day. The candidates were given a tour of the school by the second in department and then had a chance to talk with the head of department who explained the schemes of work for maths.
"There was a lot of sitting around and waiting while we were all interviewed, and in that time you got to know the other candidates quite well," says Hannah. "What settled it for me was how friendly everyone at the school was. I had been to another interview but I withdrew as I felt that the school wasn't for me. I felt that this one was."
Hannah has some tips for other students: "Don't just apply for anything, be selective but look around. Send off for a few jobs each week and have a clear idea of what sort of school you want to teach in. A-level teaching was an attraction for me. Do your research on any schools you have an interview with and make some mental notes about questions you could ask as you are shown around."
Doreen Lawson has not quite started her job hunt yet. She wants to gain as much experience as she can before going to interviews. "I want to be prepared in the interview so that whatever questions they ask me I can reply with confidence, I can show them what experience I have."
She is being selective about what jobs she applies for. "Where I can travel to is important," she says. "I like to start work early. I would want to be in school from about 7.30am. That would allow me to prepare for the day, perhaps to do some marking before the classes begin. I need to find a job that is relatively easy for me to get to. I would also like some sixth form teaching if possible."
Doreen also has firm ideas about her continuing professional development. "I would like to go on now to do a masters degree," she says. "I would like to move on quickly in the profession, look for promotions and I would like to do it sooner rather than later."
Peri Coelho has put job hunting on hold for the moment. He is disappointed at the image teachers have in the wider community. He also feels that the government's pledges on tackling the problems in teaching are a double-edged sword. "What is happening seems to me to be a political exercise, window dressing. On the one hand they are saying that they will be looking at the teachers' workload, but they are also talking about increasing the teaching time for revised A-levels and increasing the number of weeks in a year that teachers work. I see nothing here to make me feel good. It is very worrying."
It appears that other factors are also playing a part in Peri's reluctance to go all out into teaching. The relatively low pay on entry for graduates, compared with other professions, the substantial workload and poor resources of many state schools has left him feeling very choosy about where he might enter teaching, if at all.
Reflecting on their year all three students agreed that qualifying to be a teacher was no easy task. Their experiences had been the inevitable mixture of successes and some failures. With a few weeks to go the hard work is not yet over. There are still assignments to finish, teaching experience files to complete and many more lessons to plan.
The students have also been introduced to the variety of jobs that a teacher has to contend with - form tutor, form filler, "policeman", social worker . . . the listis long.
James Williams is a lecturer in science education at Brunel University