Teacher Diaries 1 : Learning to Teach

I am one of the old-style teachers who went to teacher training college, trained to be a teacher over a three-year period and then was released onto the unsuspecting children. My training consisted of many months in a variety of schools learning my art. I majored in English, Physical Education and Religious Studies. The college I attended was single sex. We had very strict rules to live by which included being back in halls before 11.30p.m.; no wearing of jeans; no transistor radios or televisions and no men in bedrooms.The College used to be a stately house in the middle of the West Yorkshire countryside. It was miles from anywhere. Fortunately I loved to walk and there were plenty of interesting places to visit on foot. During winters, the snow often blocked roads and made outward journeys impossible. The College was sited at the top of a very steep hill and I remember several times when my car went down hill sideways due to the snowy conditions. Despite its bleak appearance, most of us students loved the old place and preferred to reside in halls rather than out in the town.

The schools we were sent to for teaching practice ranged from deprived inner city slums to modern open-plan buildings. Some of them were almost impossible to get to by public transport and I was incredibly fit by the end of my training.

At the time, most infant classes had up to 39 children. 40 was considered to be too many. Each child had to be encouraged to learn at their own pace and the role of the student teacher in particular was to ensure that every child was provided with learning experiences that allowed for achievement and success thus prompting them to try even more.

We offered what was called at that time an ‘integrated day’ – which in actual terms meant that there were various learning activities and tasks set out for the children so that the teacher could see each one individually as well as observe how they worked in groups, pairs and on their own. From these observations the teacher could plan the best way to provide opportunities for learning for each child. The children had full productive days and at the end of each day, a story was told which allowed for some rest and relaxation before the children were taken home by parents or other family members.

I was privileged to meet some inspirational teachers and some wonderful and clever children. The surroundings certainly did not appear to influence their real ability. This, combined with skilled teaching, led to a number of the children I met being identified as gifted. There is nothing so soul-lifting as hearing a small child provide a stunning reason for why rainbows exist. For a five-year-old to understand about refractive index of light and droplets and prisms and be able to explain them so that his peers also could understand confirmed to me that although this was not necessarily a career path I had enthusiastically embraced, I was thrilled to now be part of this profession.

I would still rely on those methods and aspirations which I learned if I were still teaching today. I don’t believe anything has been devised that can better that system. Every child I taught learned to read, understand mathematics and had some interest in science. I don’t think I was unique, I think it was the standard of the training I received.

Once I qualified, I applied for teaching jobs near where I trained. Like many young people I met and married a local boy who already had a job. I had two interviews. One was for a local authority where there were seven interviewers. The second interview was for a specific school and this time there were only five people interviewing me! The problem with such a number is for the nervous interviewee to identify the voice and look at the speaker. It was an ordeal of fire. I must have done something well because I was offered a teaching post in a very modern setting.

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