Make yourself at home

Diane Allison

Diane Allison, TES Scotland's new columnist for probationary teachers, welcomes you to the profession with some tips to start you on the right track

If you are a new probationary teacher you are probably going to hear the greeting "Welcome" a lot over the next few weeks I welcome to the school, to the department, to the authority and, of course, you're sure to hear the cliched "Welcome to the world of teaching" at least once. Well, I want to add my own words of welcome and say Congratulations!

You already have a lot to smile about. You survived teacher training (no mean feat) and have come out on the other side of the rainbow to the place where you either have a job or are in the process of finding one.

If you are anything like I was when I started out, you will be feeling a heady mix of excitement, anticipation and unadulterated terror. You are probably wondering what is out there, what to expect over these next few months as you embark on this critical two-year leg of your career.

Can you hear the voice-over? "School, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starry-eyed, sorry, starship Probationer, her continuing mission to seek out new life (or to get a life) and new civilisations (forget Klingons and Romulans, the "scary casual" brigade will be out in force on your first in-service day), to boldly go where no one has gone before (it will sometimes feel that way)" And whoosh, you're off, split infinitives notwithstanding.

There is a Himalayan proverb which says: "When the explorer is ready, the guide will appear." You are about to embark on a most excellent adventure and I would like to tag along on that journey and share with you some of what I've learned on my own trip so far.

So, let me introduce myself. I have been a teacher for eight years. My subject is English (which explains my nippy reference to split infinitives) and teaching is one of the things I love most in life.

OK, here we go.

Whether you have done lots of preparation over the summer or spent it celebrating in a resort, your first few weeks in school will probably be an assault on your mind - the "It's school, Jim, but not as we know it" scenario.

Your timetable will be much fuller probably than you expected and the amount and type of support you'll receive will probably be quite different too. Remember, the school governors have faith in you; they have given you this job because they think you can do it. And you know what? You can, though it might not always feel that way.

Here are seven tips to help get you started.

Names are key Make a point of trying to remember the names of your colleagues as you are introduced to them. More importantly, get to know your pupils' names as quickly as you possibly can.

Make it yours If you have your own classroom, put your stamp on it: rearrange the furniture, put your own posters up and create your own systems (storage of text books, where the paper is kept and so on).

Go to the staffroom You are going to be really busy but don't work through your lunch hours; give yourself a break and get to know the rest of the staff, many of whom will be genuinely interested in how you are getting on and only too willing to help you out.

Gen up on policies If the kids know you know how things work, they are less likely to try and take advantage of you and are more likely to see you as a force to be reckoned with!

Laugh A sense of humour and a genuine interest in your pupils will help - as long as you are the one who sets the limits.

Ask You will have loads of questions and there will be things you don't understand or that you need to talk through. Prioritise these, wait for a good moment and pounce.

Relax This time is called probation because you are still learning. It is OK to make mistakes and it is OK to have a life outside the classroom. See your friends, wind down, sleep!

That will do for now but over the next months I will look in more depth at some of the probation hotspots you are about to come across so that hopefully they will feel less like the coming of Armageddon and more like a challenge you can rise to and overcome.

You have picked a great profession. Teaching is by no means an easy option but the rewards are unparalleled. I hope you soon feel at home.

Diane Allison, author of The Year of Living Dangerously: A Survival Guide for Probationer Teachers (Edinburgh City Council) teaches in Midlothian

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Diane Allison

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