Education: Phew, teachers are human: It can be scary going back to work at your old school. Haydn Price reports

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In a campaign to stem an expected shortfall in teachers over the next few years, Birmingham's sixth-formers are being encouraged to consider teaching as a career and return to the city's schools after their training. Many could end up teaching in their alma maters.

Other teachers around the country have already found that returning to one's own community, and in many cases one's own school, can be a daunting and bizarre experience, but with advantages for teachers and pupils.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, Joan Stokoe teaches English at her old school, Gosforth Comprehensive: the former class rebel, who was caught smoking by teachers, is charged with preventing pupils committing similar misdemeanours. 'Teachers would prowl the grounds looking for smokers,' she recalls, 'and pupils would hide. Today the boot is on the other foot.'

Making the transition from pupil to teacher can be difficult. 'As an adult, the first time I walked into the staff- room I was extremely nervous,' she says. 'Previously I had only been there to report for detention.

'It was amazing to see former fearsome, impersonal and heavily academic teachers as quite human, with their feet up having their morning cigarette.

''Staff were often seen as the enemy. Only after I had become one of them did I realise just how perceptive and concerned they were about pupils' welfare and development.'

Joan's deja vu has had great benefits. 'It improves your ability to relate. I remember being hit by a teacher here. I never respected her again, and that affected my ability to learn from her. Teaching in the same rooms makes me more aware of my effect on younger people.'

At Bridley Moor High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, six former pupils have become members of staff. Nicky Jones and Wendy Andrews, who teach French and history respectively, were classmates in the Eighties. 'None of us planned to return,' Wendy says, 'but as opportunities arose, we came back one by one.' Nicky adds: 'As a former pupil, you can really see the changes in education, especially in the subjects we teach.'

The six believe that the school, like others, is now more aware of and integrated with the local community.

The image of teaching has also changed, says Royston Hooper, another old boy at the school. 'Parents' evening used to consist of do's and don'ts, personal and academic. The emotional welfare of the child was of little importance. Today, parents and students arrive together and discuss their progress, emotional as well as academic, in a more positive and encouraging way.'

Anne Watts, who has returned to Stour Valley Community School, Warwickshire, to teach geography, believes that her years as a pupil have given her a special affinity with today's students. 'Those who don't pass exams, I tell them of my own experience of failing the 11-plus, the feelings of failure . . . Other teachers can't do that. I can see situations through their eyes. In some instances I can remember the same things happening to me at the same desks.

'This kind of unique empathy is an important quality I bring to my teaching.'

All these teachers believe that working within one's own community provides practical advantages. Joan Stokoe regularly bumps into old classmates, now the parents of some of her pupils. 'It gives my comments extra validity,' she says. 'They find it easier to relate to someone they remember as a typical schoolgirl rather than an academic whiz-kid.'

(Photograph omitted)