Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Monday, 27 June 2005 11:18 UK

Would-be teachers finish training

More on the fortunes of three would-be teachers, who are now finishing their one-year training to qualify for the classroom and have been in schools, trying out what they have learnt.

Click the quotes below to read about their experiences on the Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) course and their hopes for the future.

Robert Waiting
Robert Waiting
St Mary's College, Twickenham
"It requires intense commitment ... but generally the more you put into the job the more you take from it"
Joanne O'Keeffe
Joanne O'Keeffe
University of Central England
"Being at school, putting theory into practice and learning from experienced teachers has been really useful"
Gary Haines
Gary Haines
London Institute of Education
"The immense satisfaction from watching young people develop due to the direct impact you have on them is immeasurable"

STRAIGHT FROM UNIVERSITY

Robert Waiting left Cambridge University last summer with a first class degree in English and drama with education studies and has been training at St Mary's College, Twickenham.

It's 7am and the alarm is heralding a new school day.

Thoughts of lesson plans, resources, assessments and observations quickly remind me that my relaxed undergraduate days are now a distant memory.

An hour or so later I am at school and preparing my lessons for the rest of the day.

Fortunately my planning has meant that I can be fairly confident about what I am teaching and how I am going to make it stimulating and engaging for the class.

However, this does not mean I can relax.

Robert Waiting
Teaching is exhausting - there is always more work to do and not enough time to do it
I need to be constantly assessing the pupils' progress, evaluating my own work, dealing with unruly behaviour, preparing for tomorrow's lessons, putting up displays, running extra-curricula activities and every now and again remembering to breathe.

By the end of the day a short nap on one of the desks is very tempting but there is still the staff meeting to attend and parents to speak to.

Eventually, just as the last of the daylight disappears, I leave school, arrive home and collapse on the sofa - or just inside the doorway, depending on how tired I am.

My body insists it would be quite happy to remain here for the rest of the evening but my mind knows that there are lessons to plan, reflections to write up and resources to gather.

This must all be done before it begins again tomorrow. Perhaps it will get easier ...

Teaching is exhausting. There is always more work to do and not enough time to do it.

Generosity

Days such as those described above are not unusual and it is essential therefore, as a trainee, to take regular breaks and prioritise.

Most schools are aware of this and consequently will do everything they can to make the school placement enjoyable and valuable for the trainee.

I have been particularly fortunate in that the staff in the school I have worked in have been incredibly supportive and encouraging.

Every effort has been made to incorporate me into school events and activities and all of the teachers, including my college tutor, have been generous in sharing their plans, resources and tips.

This inclusion has been motivating and inspiring, building up my confidence and helping me to be perceived both by parents and pupils as a valued member of the school staff.

Fortunately, I have been also offered a job in the school, and consequently the daunting prospect of being a class teacher for a whole year now seems slightly more manageable.

It is because of these experiences that I am still enjoying teaching and feel very privileged to be doing it as a career.

Despite the long hours and mountains of paperwork it is a very rewarding job that really is different every day.

It requires intense commitment and dedication but generally the more that you put into the job the more you take from it.

This is particularly true of primary teaching where children actively want to learn and gain knowledge.

Although some may try to misbehave and disrupt classes, the majority will value lessons that are engaging, stimulating and fun.

Helping them to progress and develop their skills and abilities can be a unique experience and one which has made me laugh regularly. As the recruitment ad promises "children are never boring".

Grants

Fortunately at present, in addition to the personal rewards, there are also a number of other financial incentives that have helped me to survive this year.

The 6,000 grant (given to all postgraduate trainees) has been significant in helping me to avoid another year of university debt.

However, the government has recently announced that, with the introduction of variable fees in England in 2006, this funding will be withdrawn and teacher training institutions will be able to charge the full 3,000 fee.

It is expected that trainees will be offered a grant of 1,200 to help cover the costs but this will still leave them with a bill of 1,800.

I myself, having come straight from university, would certainly have questioned my decision to apply for the course if I had not been awarded the grant.

Joanne O'Keeffe, Birmingham, has been training at the University of Central England - but, like many primary school trainees, has yet to find a full-time job.

The Last Leg, or am I on mine?

No, it hasn't been that bad really. Since Christmas things have been on the up.

Being at school, putting theory into practice and learning from experienced teachers has been really useful and much more enjoyable than earlier parts of the course.

The paperwork has eased off, assignments are out of the way and I have been able to get on with enjoying the teaching part of the course.

Joanne O'Keeffe
Finally I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am able to look back and feel great joy and pleasure
My experiences have been in the two Key Stages and at completely different schools, one where all the children had English as an additional language to one where there were no such students.

The challenges of junior and infants are also different. What works with one group of children doesn't work with all groups of children - a lesson I learnt very quickly.

I began my final practice almost petrified of going to work with young infant children, an area I hadn't ventured back to since I was there as a child myself, but the staff and pupils of Blakenhale Infant School have been wonderful and I have settled in there very quickly.

However, I am now counting the days until I finish my placement and can call myself a "real" teacher, get a job and have my own class and young minds to mould.

I have been for three interviews already, but not managed to get a job.

It can be disheartening but you just have to put your game face on, get on with your training and go for the next one.

There is a job out there with my name on it!

Finally I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am able to look back and feel great joy and pleasure.

Having your own class, even if only for eight weeks, is so rewarding.

You have the opportunity to get to know each individual, their personality and their capabilities.

The sense of satisfaction and pleasure you feel when a poem is written or a story is developed is amazing - being able to sit back and say 'I did that, I made that happen' is just so wonderful.

And that look that comes across a child's face as they suddenly realise or work out the answer to a question or an idea, and understand what you have been teaching, is priceless.

One of the most important lessons I've learnt is that teaching is a lifestyle not just a job.

It is very difficult to switch off when you go home and there can be so much preparation to do I will be thankful for the guaranteed time for planning, preparation and assessment which teachers in England and Wales are getting from this autumn.

The beginning is definitely the hardest part. If you can get through that you can get through anything!

Joanne has now secured a teaching post for September.

FORMER CLASSROOM ASSISTANT

Gary Haines, London, spent the previous year working as a learning support assistant and has been training at the London University Institute of Education.

"The year ahead promises to be one full of highs and lows, peaks and troughs" I foresaw in my first review prior to teacher training.

I can categorically state that this was the understatement of the year.

The PGCE course is emphatically the most difficult year of my life.

It feels as if you are balancing a full-time job with a full-time university education, whilst earning a pittance and not having enough time to fit in your workload.

You are constantly tired and run down. It can cause a strain on your relationship, you may or may not gel with your colleagues in your placement schools, kids can be very difficult, and the level of knowledge needed is immense.

Your social life takes a battering and you most certainly hone your skills as a glorified secretary caught up in the mounds (and mounds!) of paperwork.

Gary Haines
I have found most pupils in schools amiable, polite and good-natured
Every beginning teacher at some point during the course of the year will question their reasons for doing it.

Nevertheless it's fantastic. For any prospective teachers who have procrastinated whether to join the profession do not hesitate any longer: sign up.

The immense satisfaction from watching young people develop due to the direct impact that you as their teacher have on them is immeasurable.

They keep you on your toes, motivated, with an air of vitality driving you on.

The cacophony of the corridors can be exhilarating, keeping you mentally alert and reminding you constantly of the purpose of teaching.

You can continue to study a subject that you have a passion for and share your knowledge and experience with others.

History, for example, I obviously find very interesting, however I am also aware that it can be a very subjective topic, wherein one period may be fascinating, other periods incredibly tedious.

If you then relate this to young people, who are non-specialist historians, the problem is exacerbated.

Therefore the most interesting aspect of teaching history is not the history itself per se, but the development of historical understanding and concepts.

All topics can become interesting and beneficial for pupils if you get them to start to think, question, criticise, debate, analyse, reflect, and evaluate.

The year as a beginning teacher has also helped dispel the media myth about young people - young boys in 'hoodies,' drunkenness, yobbish behaviour, and a lack of manners.

This is simply alienating the majority of kids to whom these labels simply do not apply.

I have found most pupils in schools amiable, polite and good-natured.

Yes, there are a few bad eggs, sometimes too many, but we only hear in the news about a kid who chucked a chair at a teacher - not about the kids who have bought their teacher a spa weekend as a 'thank you' for the teachers' commitment to extra revision classes and going that extra mile. (This happened in my school).

We hear of kids with knifes, not of kids with manners. Unfortunately one is newsworthy, the other not so.

This is not to suggest all schools are beacons of light and good manners, but simply to put into perspective the fear that is shown of young people.

Variety

The biggest problem that I have found is not anything as dramatic, instead it is low-level misbehaviour such as chatting, silliness, and apathy (largely prevalent among boys, I hasten to add.)

Teaching is a career that offers the variety, challenge and motivation that most people aspire to in their jobs.

Young people can be cheeky, but refreshing, testy but honest. They speak their minds and are not afraid to share an opinion - skills from which many offices up and down the country could learn a lesson.

Although the PGCE is a nine-month course, after which you are qualified to become a full-time teacher, the learning curve is a steep one which will continue for many years to come, and that in itself is an exciting challenge.

I am lucky enough to have got a job working in a mixed comprehensive in East London, and am very much looking forward to honing my skills in order to become an effective and successful classroom teacher.

To summarise my experiences of teaching I would refer back to my first review again.

"The workload is daunting, the level of commitment required mammoth. But most of all I am looking forward to teaching offering the personal and professional satisfaction few jobs can beat." (Me, August 2004)

Never have truer words been spoken.



SEE ALSO
Grant for teacher training bill
20 Jan 05 |  Education
Cuts to teacher training places
23 Dec 04 |  Education
Trainee teachers review first term
31 Dec 04 |  Education
On the road to being teachers
11 Oct 04 |  Education

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