Training to teach 30 years ago and today

I have been going through some of my Mum’s and Dad’s stuff: years of collected travel brochures, postcards, photos and so on. Today, I found a letter I sent during my PGCE course at Goldsmiths’ College in London. I qualified to teach 30 years ago in 1986. I had forgotten my apprehension. Where will I live? Can I afford it? Will I be okay in charge of a class?

This is the letter.

Dear Mum and Dad,

Thanks for the birthday cards and the money. Having that package from you helped me to convince the bank that I was really on a PGCE course.

This address is now set for the duration of the course. It’s a 2-bedroomed flat with living room, kitchen and bathroom. I have one bedroom and my landlord has the other. He is a mature student, originally from Calcutta; he is about 45 years old; he was doing a science degree but has switched to humanities, which he describes as ‘history and politics.’ He thinks having a student lodger will help him to study; we’ll see. He is charging me £25.00 a week with absolutely everything included except my food. The flat is centrally heated (underfloor), fully furnished, with endless hot water. I don’t have to pay for gas, electricity, or anything; just £25.00 a week and, to my surprise, he also insists on regularly supplying me with fresh bed linen. To put the £25.00 a week inclusive of bills into perspective, I saw about 20 or 30 adverts for rooms to let with not one less than £30.00 a week exclusive of bills. And these ‘cheap’ flats were all 4 or 5 miles from college and even up to 20 miles away. I am 2 miles from college, which means I can walk there.

I seem to have chosen the right place to be in the thick of the politics of education; Inner London teachers are engaged in short-sharp-shock industrial action including 30 minute flash-strikes. The college has all of our ‘phone numbers so that in the event of a strike at school we can be instructed not to go. The teachers at the school ring the college in advance, but in confidence, and the college rings us up just before we are due to go to school. I am glad I am not expected to cross picket lines.

Today in school I was supposed to follow a 3rd year class all day, just to observe, maybe to help, mainly to watch and learn. In the first period, unfortunately, the teacher was absent. Somehow the system failed and nobody at all came. So I took the lesson. It was only a matter of helping people who were stuck; they all had work to do. I am quite glad I ended up in charge by accident. I would have been very nervous if I had known in advance.

Lots of love,


What difference has 30 years made?

2016 1986
personal computers paper
laptops pencils and pens
mobile phones landlines (home telephones)
the internet public libraries
online forms paper forms
emails letters
virtual learning environments college libraries
electronic journals paper journals
electronic spreadsheets of data markbooks and exam results
IWBs and YouTube television and video
Google images photographs
cut and paste scissors and glue
whiteboards and pens blackboards and chalk
Facebook and Twitter notice boards
Year 7, Year 8, Year 9,… 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year,…
National Curriculum examination syllabi
SATs internal examinations
Ofsted local inspection services
student loans maintenance grants
course fees paid by students course fees paid by government

It was and still seems to be an insecure existence

A month after writing this letter, I moved out of the flat into a shared house. Reading this letter reminds me of trying to find somewhere safe and affordable to live in London. I recall the paperwork, cash-flow problems, and worrying about whether I would be capable of becoming a teacher. I know these are matters all student teachers have to deal with. But I am struck by the increase in expectations and other differences between my world as a student teacher in 1986 and the world of student teachers today. The financial risk strikes me more than anything else. It seems like madness to expect people to pay to train to teach when the challenges are so great and the standards expected are so high.

Where will I live? Can I afford it? Will I be okay in charge of a class?


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