Sunday, 27 March 2011

Memoirs of a teacher trainee

While we are talking teacher education, I can share my experience of getting one in Russia in the early '70s, which was just as inefficient as elsewhere, but in its own way. I never intended to be a teacher, but my degree was in English as a Foreign Language, because it was the closest I could get to what I really wanted to do, which was learning a foreign language on an advanced level. We did Old English, and Phonetics, and US Government. But because it was formally a teaching degree, we had five years of Foundation Subjects, except Sociology, which at that time in Russia was regarded as a capitalist pseudo-science.

Practice-based education was not the buzz, since in five years we only went to schools once, for three weeks. I would have liked to go to my old school where I knew the teachers, but it was not among the partnership schools. I was supposed to teach 9-year-olds who were in their second year of learning English. The first week was observation, and then we were thrown into the river and expected to float or drown. Nobody even asked to have a look at our lesson plans. The ordinary teacher was young, so she had gone through it herself recently and was very empathic. She advised me not to ask any questions from two pupils who were weak, because it would make a bad impression on the inspector. I explained that if I ignored two pupils, the inspector would draw points from my score. One morning, when I entered the classroom there was a very clumsy poem written on the blackboard. "It is Lenin's birthday", she reminded me. "Have you prepared anything to commenmorate Lenin's birthday?" I hadn't, so her silly poem saved me, and the inspector noted it in her report.

We were also supposed to participate in one extra-curricular activity, and luckily my pupils were to join the Pioneers, the mandatory scout-like children's organisation. I went with them to the Lenin Museum where the ceremony was held. It added well to my score. In class that day, we trained pronunciation: Pie-oh-neer.

On the Friday of my last week, a little girl, one of two weak pupils I wasn't supposed to address, said: "See you on Monday". "No", I said, "sorry, but you won't". "Why?" she wondered. A boy whispered behind my back: "Her practice is over, you dimwit".

That was the end of my career in Primary Education.

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