Probationers are Neet

Just three days of teaching at a secondary left a newcomer deflated and in a state of shock

I WAS a little nervous - nothing major, just that slight unsettled feeling in my stomach, the same as when I put to sea after a long time ashore - but I thought it was going to be a breeze. My placements and academic work had all gone really well and I had come away from university with a first - what could be so difficult about teaching less than 16 hours a week and getting paid for it?

On August 14 I walked into my probationer post at an Edinburgh City secondary school, and on August 16 I walked out in a state of shock. I'd had an excellent induction course and two in-service days, but my first day's real teaching was rubbish. It wasn't even a full day - just two periods had left me feeling completely deflated.

Smiling confidently, I had greeted my new fourth years at the door, waited for them to sit, then asked for quiet while I took the register. A couple of the nice kids turned and faced me, the others didn't even skip a beat.

"Quiet while I take the register, thanks," then a little louder and more assertively, standing with arms folded. And so it went on for a full 15 minutes until I managed to work out who was present. Agony.

The third years were worse, last period of the day, hyper from PE and with a new teacher to bait. I tried a different tack. "I'd like you to think of your favourite sandwich, while I take the register," I said. I worked my way down the list. Quite noisy, but a nice little ice-breaker until I got to Brendan. "Favourite sandwich, Brendan?" He could hardly contain himself.

"Shit," he blurted out with a sneer. His classmates howled.

Four months on and I can honestly say that I'm enjoying my job. Well, obviously the whole working five-days-a-week thing is complete crap when you've been a student for four years, but I actually had fun today, and yesterday, and the day before that... Why? I don't have a definitive answer. I think it's a combination of factors. I try to be super-organised. I have a shelf of ring binders containing class records, support materials from the department or ones I have made, and brief notes for lesson plans.

I've had superb support from my mentor through our weekly meetings and at any other times when I've needed answers to questions or just reassurance.

I try to talk to other teachers and probationers about specific pupils - it's good to realise that you are not the only one having difficulties. I go to the staffroom as often as I can. It's necessary to have a break and chat about something other than education, even if it's only about the most effective way to defrost a fridge. And I've got involved with extra-curricular activities to get to know pupils and for them to get to know me in a different setting.

It seems like another decade when I was standing in line, wearing a friend's suit and a hired fur-trimmed hooded gown and waiting to be doffed with John Knox's breaches. I smiled then, with the realisation that I was about to graduate into a hoodie-wearing Neet (the Executive's statistical absurdity that includes young people who take a gap year between school and university as "Not in Employment, Education or Training"), soon to be on probation. Would I be labelled one of them? An undesirable? Whateva.

Actually, I do think I have a definitive answer - teaching is all about building good relationships - which is perhaps why it's taken me three months to start enjoying my new career.

Steve McColl used to work in the marine industry and is now a probationer teacher. He is also vice-convener of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and a member of Scottish Qualifications Authority's advisory council

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