Probationers have a point to prove

HER drama teacher in Aberdeen told Shonagh Dunbar she would be lucky to pass her Highers and was heading for a D grade. This week she started as a drama teacher at St Augustine's High in Edinburgh, eight years after her humiliation. "I just went out to prove her wrong," Ms Dunbar says.

Dave Thomson, who started as a modern studies and history teacher at Trinity Academy in the city, recalls a similar tale from primary in Kirkcaldy. "My headteacher told me I would never amount to anything," he says.

Another probationer was told: "Don't bother with your Highers, you are going to be a joiner."

Cheap comments can dent confidence and may never be forgiven, Edinburgh's probationary teachers were warned last week during their two-day induction course. Margaret Alcorn, the city's continuing professional development manager, said such memories were not untypical. "People do remember and what they often remember are the negative things."

Teachers have to set the right tone in their classroom. "You make the weather, you create the environment and the way you deal with different situations will decide whether your classroom is a happy place and whether children will learn in your class," Mrs Alcorn says.

She never progressed with maths in the early years of secondary because a teacher always shouted at her. After she changed teacher in S5 she went on to pass a Higher in one year.

Mrs Alcorn advised the first intake into the new one-year probationary system to keep their humour and smile when they take to the classrooms. "I have been teaching a long time and can recall only two or three difficult incidents - 99.9 per cent of our kids are just great and will do what you want happily," she said.

Eileen Foulner, religious and moral education specialist, told the 130 probationers: "The moment you walk into the classroom, the pupils will suss in a minute if you have any fears. The more you become aware of who you are as a person, the more comfortable you will be."

Shonagh Dunbar is looking forward to being in charge of her own classes after being placed at St Augustine's during her one-year postgraduate course at Moray House. Her primary concern is with classroom management, behaviour and discipline.

Mrs Alcorn advised all probationers to find out immediately what school policies were on managing behaviour and use them. "Get yourself some buddies in your department or in the classroom next door: someone you can rely on to save your bacon when you have a problem. Use each other."

Sometimes pupils misbehave but that is not necessarily a reflection on the teacher. "It's often about their friends, having a bad weekend, getting lifted the night before or having a row with their mum or dad that morning. You may feel it's about you but it's not."

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