Cast the light of experience

Sean McPartlin

We all start somewhere, but remember how daunting teaching can be and help your new staff, writes Sean McPartlin.

The training of young workers is of utmost importance, whatever their situation. In our field, the monitoring of education college courses, the extension of in-service development opportunities and attention paid to the newly qualified in TES Scotland reflects an awareness of the need to welcome and support teachers as they take their first steps in the profession.

Commendably, teacher training has become increasingly rigorous, structured and relevant over the past generation or so. When I look back over my quarter of a century in the profession, it seems that I learned much from older colleagues. However, I was lucky. I started under an inspiring principal teacher, a highly effective headteacher and in an atmosphere where young teachers were encouraged to contribute, supported when they made mistakes and always liable to find friendly advice.

I had friends who were not so fortunate and who had to make their own way in the profession, unsupported and not infrequently overwhelmed by all there was to be learnt about their craft.

Clearly, while learning from old hands has its place, graduates entering teaching deserve a far more effective and less haphazard system of induction. It is senior school managers who must take most responsibility for this.

The probationer programme and the mentoring system lay down certain expectations for all newly qualified teachers when they join a school. The McCrone agreement to ensure teaching experience for all graduates brings a further emphasis on the need for the profession to make sure that new teachers are retained and nurtured.

However, whatever the national initiatives, the individual probationer will find their view of the world of education coloured by the actions of those around them during their first year.

While every school will have a programme of development for probationers and an officially recognised mentor on the management team, it is the ethos of the school and its staff that will be most effective. An up-to-date and relevant induction pack for new staff can be invaluable, assuming probationers feel they can trust it and it addresses their needs.

Do probationers feel that it is genuinely all right to ask questions?; that they can approach colleagues for advice? Are they given timetabled opportunities to see other teachers in the classroom, not just in their own department, but across the subject spectrum? Do they feel their views are valued and, indeed, actively sought?

Are they protected from the staffroom cynic? Are their role models on the staff giving them a positive lead? If they develop unacceptable traits, is there a monitoring system that allows the management team to address these without undermining the probationer's confidence?

Stress and depression can be common in teaching. The best route to a successful career is to acquire self-confidence built on good practice, personal development opportunities and an awareness of good professional habits.

Management has a role to play in these areas, particularly during the changing times that the McCrone agreement has presaged. Uncertainty over career development routes has been one byproduct of the reduction in promoted posts and the introduction of chartered teachers. Even older headteachers may be of little comfort to newcomers in this area, but it is a concern that has to be addressed.

Like anyone else in the school community, probationers will flourish when they are given a clear picture of what is expected of them, given the support and resources to achieve that and rewarded by being valued as vital members of the staff.

Managers should ensure that the probationers' voice is heard on school committees and working groups, and the established staff should not be so insecure as to find it hard to accept new and perhaps revolutionary approaches.

Perhaps more than anything, the personal interest of the head, letting a new teacher know that he or she is aware of their progress and is there to support them, can mean a lot in the early days.

As managers and experienced staff, we should never forget how daunting it can all seem at first and we should always be ready to lend an ear and give support.

Sean McPartlin is assistant headteacher at St Margaret's Academy, Livingston.

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Sean McPartlin

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