In a class of their own

29th August 2008 at 01:00
They are the teachers now, not the students. We talk to some of this year's probationers

CAITRIONA LYNCH (34) Teacher, Strontian Primary, Highland

I signed the preference waiver, so they could have sent me anywhere in Scotland. I'm from County Longford in Ireland. I've ended up in Strontian Primary, west of Fort William. I've got 15 children, but that's P1-3.

My degree is in chemistry and I worked in industry for 10 years before deciding to train as a teacher. I went for primary rather than secondary because you can do more with the younger ones. In secondary, it's more about passing exams, less about the whole child.

I played the piano when I was young, so teaching music isn't a worry. I love art but wouldn't say I was artistic. I learned on the teacher training course that there are lots of resources out there and lots of simple stuff you can do in a class.

The course (at the University of the West of Scotland) was tough. We had five-week placements in nursery, infant, middle and upper schools. I think you handle it more easily as a mature student, but it was intensive. You were just getting the hang of one stage when they had to move you on. Putting the theory into practice was the best - seeing things working with the children.

I came to Scotland because of its reputation in education and because it's so progressive - in ICT, for instance. I was delighted when I got a school in the Highlands. It was a real adventure driving there. The people are friendly and the countryside is beautiful.

JOHN ANDERSON (22) History teacher, Monifieth High, Angus

As a pupil, I liked the social side of school, but didn't get the grades. I went to college, then university. College was a good transition. You got to know people and could interact with the lecturers.

I'm a mentor now on the summer school run by Strathclyde University (where I did my teacher training). I tell the kids who don't get the grades that it doesn't have to be the end - especially if it's something they really want to do. There isn't enough knowledge out there about college.

I loved my placements. The last one was challenging. But being challenged made me a better teacher. You had to keep doing innovative things they hadn't seen before. It was exciting.

I had a second-year girl on my last placement who was really difficult, and I struggled for a while. She came in one day with her arm in a sling. I got the class sorted, then spoke to her for five minutes. She told me she'd fallen off her bike. I asked if she was managing in other classes, if she needed a scribe, if it was holding her back. Next day, she stopped me in the corridor when she was with all her pals and asked me how my day was going. It was amazing. I hadn't done a lot, just showed a wee bit of interest in her as a person. But what a difference it made.

If you treat them like young adults, pupils will respond to you.

LAURA GILMAN (24) Modern studies teacher, Musselburgh Grammar, East Lothian

The best part of university was a year in Pennsylvania as part of my degree in American Studies (before doing my teacher training at Strathclyde). It was a small college, a community. You did the reading, then had these great academic discussions. You really got to participate.

One of the lecturers was an adviser to the Clinton administration on Latin-American affairs. So instead of writing an essay, she'd get us to prepare a policy paper for government. It was practical. It got you thinking. It made me realise that young people will be turned off if I just talk at them. So I'll be giving them the responsibility to prepare things, to think things through, to learn for themselves.

I like decision-making exercises where you get them working in groups on an issue - residents, environmentalists, business people. They listen to each other, come up with arguments, make decisions. It's learning by doing and it works with all the kids - not just the writers.

Until the middle of this month, we didn't really know what this year was all about. But the East Lothian, probationers have had three days' induction and I am happier now.

It was really practical: this is what you need to know; this is how the school works; this is what the authority can provide. I got more out of those three days than a term of people talking at me.

The pupils are in. It's what I've been waiting for all year - to be the teacher, instead of playing at it with somebody else's class. I can't wait.

PAM ABRAHAM (38) Teacher, Noblehill Primary, Dumfries and Galloway

I did three years at college studying hospitality, and five years in Switzerland specialising in chocolates, sugar-work and marzipan. Then my husband and I had five years on cruise ships, going all over the world - Asia, Russia, up the Amazon.

After I had three children, I stayed at home for a time. Then I did a degree course in childhood studies, with all my placements in schools. I started thinking about teaching.

I did a two-year part-time postgraduate course at Crichton campus in Dumfries, run by Strathclyde University in partnership with the local authority. I loved it.

I have a P21 class and I can't wait. I've gone in a lot during the holidays - checking resources, setting up an interactive wall and maths, writing and role-play areas.

Linda Keith and Anne Neil at Strathclyde are keen on active learning and inspirational. I'm taking a lot of what they gave us into the classroom. I'm ready. I'm anxious, but more about the planning than the teaching. With A Curriculum for Excellence it's all changing, and every school does things differently.

I'm looking forward to the children, to the active learning, to treating them as individuals, to taking them from where they are to where they will be in a year. There is so much to look forward to. I'm excited about the whole thing.

NAMAAN SHAFIQ (22) Teacher, Muirkirk Primary, East Ayrshire

I've just finished my second day as a teacher. I don't have any worries about the teaching. The paperwork worries me the most.

I found that hard as a postgraduate (at the University of the West of Scotland). Many dropped out in the first month or so. I was nearly one of them. Then I realised you didn't have to do something with every piece of paper they gave you. You had to prioritise.

I always fancied being a teacher, but the idea of doing primary rather than secondary came to me quite late. I think the discipline would be a concern with older kids.

I get the feeling you might get more men in primary teaching as time goes by. This is quite a small school, but there is another male teacher here.

We had a probationer conference and an in-service day two weeks ago, with a lot about the new curriculum and developing critical skills in the children. An example would be getting them in a circle at the start of the day and talking about how they're feeling, what they're thinking about the day ahead.

I have a Primary 3-4 class. I came in at the end of last term to get things like the levels the children are working at. I did preparation during the holidays. You have to.

The staff here are very friendly. They've all said if I've any problems they'll help me out. The paperwork is a worry but I'm sure it'll get easier in time. I love standing in front of a class. I love teaching kids.

MARGARET LAMONT (43) Home economics teacher, Kilmarnock Academy, East Ayrshire

I was in careers guidance for 11 years before training to be a teacher. I was looking for something that would stretch me more. I had also gained the confidence in working with young people to be able to stand up and teach, which is something that had always appealed.

I don't have major worries. For a home economics teacher, the biggest concern is getting a lesson finished on time. You have to set up, prepare the dish, cook it, wash up and get them out, in 55 minutes. It has to be brisk but safe. If you don't get through everything in a maths lesson, they can pack up and go. But I could be left with 20 sets of dirty dishes, and another class coming in.

After my first couple of days in the classroom, the postgraduate year at Strathclyde seems a blur. I learned a lot during it. An early lecture that stuck in my mind is that young people learn in all different ways - and reading is only one of them.

The big difference now from last year is that I am the one who's responsible. But the support within the school is fantastic.

It is nice to be cooking again, which I love, to be working with young people and teaching them valuable life skills. I am getting the chance to combine both my previous careers. That is great.

COLLEEN CLINTON (28) Teacher, Carmondean Primary, West Lothian

Education is about more than academic development. I'm keen to promote children's well-being, confidence and interpersonal relationships.

I'm looking forward to the year. But embarking on a new career is a daunting experience. I'm a perfectionist and sometimes put myself under unnecessary pressure.

I have a Master's in education and worked as a researcher, looking at education from the theoretical perspective. Visits to schools showed me I'd like to get into the practical side - working with children, making a difference.

Teacher training (at Strathclyde) was a good balance of research, policy and practice. It showed us we aren't isolated practitioners but part of a wider community. The course was well organised and the virtual learning environment made networking easy.

I visited my school and met my colleagues, who gave me a warm welcome. Over the summer I studied the school handbook and its policies. I thought about class rules and routines. I made resources for classroom display and created reward systems for positive behaviour. I planned activities for the first week.

I set up my classroom, though at first I didn't know where to start, as we'd never had to organise a classroom from scratch. My stage partner was a big help.

Worries would be about classroom and behaviour management. Experienced teachers seem able to think on their feet and have a bank of fun activities. I'm still learning.

It's going to be a busy year. Teaching is demanding. But working with children, contributing to their progress, seeing it happen, makes it such a valuable and worthwhile career.

Despite a few nerves, I can't wait to start.

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