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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 2: Teacher Training College

by  flock1

Posted: Saturday, July 8, 2006
Word Count: 1619
Summary: Teacher Training College!

Chapter 2 Teacher Training College

FOR THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, life for Phil Jackson and I centred on the teacher training college. In some lectures, we were taught the background of each subject in the National Curriculum. It was all tedious stuff. Silently, I began to question the validly of some of the things we were learning. For instance, did we really need to know about a man called Piaget who’d apparently changed the face of education some fifty years previously? So what? And what did it matter if I missed a lecture about the use of calculators? It was hardly astrophysics. Phil felt the same. After only a month, the only lectures we enjoyed were the more practical based subjects like Art, PE and Music. The latter was particularly interesting.
In music the twenty or so students in our particular group had to sing and clap along to strange tunes and rhythms. I enjoyed these lessons because of my musical background; I played guitar. But Phil hated them; he was tone deaf and had only a rudimentary grasp of rhythm. He stopped attending after only a few sessions, but his final music lesson was memorable.
The woman in charge told us we’d be working in pairs. Each duo had to compose a basic tune which would be performed back to the whole group for appraisal. Partnering up with Phil, we each took a percussion instrument. I opted for a xylophone whereas Phil went for the safe-looking wooden maracas. After finding a quiet cubbyhole located along the corridor, we attempted to write a song.
Since I already possessed a modicum of musical skill, I was assigned musical director of the venture, quickly banging out a simple but effective melody on the xylophone. I then got Phil to play along, telling him to shake his maracas at suitable points, thereby making effective use of rhythm. After only a short while the tune actually sounded quite good and when the woman in charge poked her head around the corner, she seemed to like it too. “Good,” she said. “But what about the lyrics?”
“Lyrics?” Phil asked.
“Yes. You need words to go with your ostinato.”
“Come on, you’ve only five minutes,” she said, ignoring him. “If you can’t think of any lyrics, you’ll just have to hum the melody instead.” And off she trotted, leaving Phil and I to quickly work on a set of words.
After failing to come up with some suitable rhyming couplets, we decided that humming was the only way forward. With two minutes to go before showtime, we had a final run through then traipsed back to the main room with everyone else. After sitting down, the woman in charge asked for volunteers to start us off. Not surprisingly, there weren’t any takers. She picked Phil and me. “Your tune sounded good!” she said, smiling.
Like men condemned, we walked to the front, preparing for the torment and humiliation that was surely to come. Placing my xylophone on the conveniently placed table, I counted us in.
And then the Cacophony in C-minor began.
Phil shook his maracas far too vigorously and at the wrong time. I played the wrong notes over and over again, often banging the beater on the rubber bit instead of the metal bars. Worst of all was the humming. It was hellish.
Phil hummed like a banshee cavorting with devils. My voice (more or less in tune) became embroiled into the most discordant harmony ever heard by man. What was worse was the fact we were powerless to stop. Now we’d started, we had to finish.
The woman in charge, bless her, put on a brave face, but I could tell she was staggered. Luckily a fellow student managed to break the spell by suddenly guffawing. Soon everyone else started too, leaving Phil and myself standing at the front, shame-faced, but now thankfully mute.
And then everyone clapped. As we returned to our seats, a student called Nick Kenyon shouted across at us. “Hey, you two! That was ace! Funniest thing I’ve ever heard! Can you do it again?”
Phil gestured with his middle finger. Nick laughed even more.

A day later, perhaps as a penance, Nick Kenyon was forced to become a tree. It was during a creative literacy lecture. Standing in front of the whole group, Nick spread his arms and fingers out – branch like – then curled his facial features into a tree-like frown filled with sorrow and woe. As an old oak tree, Nick gave a masterful performance. Even the lecturer was impressed. Afterwards, in the college canteen, we questioned him on his tree acting abilities. He surprised us by saying he’d once been an actor.
“An actor?” asked Phil.
“Yeah, but not a successful one,” replied Nick, smiling. “My only starring role was in Crimewatch. I played a bank robber. My face was covered with a balaclava. You couldn’t even tell it was me. Didn’t matter though, I got paid four hundred quid. I’ve got in on video. You can borrow it if you like.”
“Why’d you stop acting then?” I asked.
Nick shrugged. “Not enough work. I was always skint.”

At the end of week three, I actually attended an interesting lecture for once. The subject was staffroom etiquette. When first visiting a new school, we were informed, we had to wait for the rest of the staff to sit down before we took a seat. Doing this would avoid the embarrassing situation of innocently sitting in an already established seat. Worse though, was committing the heinous crime of using someone else’s mug at playtime. To avoid this unpleasant situation, we were advised to take our own mugs. Failing that, we had to select the most non-descript looking one in the staffroom.
Years later, when spying a trainee teacher looking nervously for a cup herself, I remembered these warnings and did a most terrible thing. Waiting until she’d opted for one of the plain blue mugs that were there for everyone’s use, I waited until she’d filled it up with her chosen brew. Then I told her she was using my mug. The poor student turned white and nearly dropped it. Only the swift announcement by another teacher saved the day. I later apologised for my scandalous behaviour.
Back at the college, things finally changed gear. For a month, we all had to visit a different school on a Wednesday afternoon. It would be a chance to watch real teachers in action. So the following week I caught a bus to my assigned school. It was on the outskirts of Bradford, an area I didn’t know. Soon I was led to the Reception classroom.
The four-and five-year olds inside were tiny. Children seemed to be wandering where they liked, playing with whatever they fancied. This was usually the sand pit or water trough. Snotty noses and random weeping appeared to be the order of the day.
“This is Play Cooperation,” said a middle-aged woman who’d suddenly appeared from an adjoining kitchen. “We do it every afternoon. It gives the children an opportunity to react with each other. And to make friendship groups.”
I nodded, spying a little boy brandishing a rolling pin. Where he’d got it from I had no idea. So where are your friends then? I thought. Probably lying in the Wendy House with battered in skulls and broken limbs. I mentally crossed off early years as an age range to specialise in for my teaching practise.
On the third Wednesday, I visited a middle school catering for older children. It seemed much more up my street. For a start, there were blackboards at the front and kids writing in exercise books. It was how I remembered school. At the end of one lesson I wandered off to find the staffroom. On the way, I was accosted by a male teacher wearing a dark suit. With furtive glances to his left and right, he asked if I was a student teacher. I nodded. The man ushered me into a nearby classroom.
After shutting the door, he said, “Let me give you some advice. Don’t become a teacher. Get out before it’s too late. Teaching’s the worst job in the world. I should know.” He exhaled deeply, rubbing his temples. “Fucking load of shit, in fact.”
I was slightly shocked. “Are you a teacher?”
“Yeah. Not for much longer though.” With this, he was off, leaving me alone in his classroom wondering who on earth he was and what had caused him to be so paranoid. I never saw him again.
The following week, I was put into a Year 5 class of ten-year-olds. The female teacher was delivering a geography lesson about Western Europe. As she stood at the front the whole class sat and listened attentively at their desks. And then a thought struck me. It looked easy! There was Miss Whatsername talking about various countries on a map, and whenever she asked a question, children put up their hands. Everything was calm and ordered, and I began to think that given the chance I could do a job equally as good, if not better. I didn’t let the fact I’d never stood in front of a class deflate my moment of self-importance. No, it all looked fairly straightforward. After all, teaching wasn’t rocket science. I went home that afternoon in high spirits. I’d decided on my age range: junior children were the ones for me.
Two weeks later, I finally got the chance to prove myself in front of a class for the first time. And I was proved right, teaching wasn’t rocket science. It was much harder than that.