A steep climb to the summit

25th October 1996 at 01:00
Graduation day is just the beginning says Ann Wilson, who shares her experiences of job-seeking in Scotland. I remember reading First Appointments around this time last year. I savoured the points made in key articles, cutting and keeping sections for reference. At that time, I was a bright-eyed, enthusiastic BEd Hons primary student in my final year at a Scottish teacher training establishment.

Now I'm a qualified primary teacher, trying to whittle away the days of service which will take me from provisional status to fully qualified in the eyes of the General Teaching Council.

I want to give you an insight into some of the things you can expect to experience in this mind-blowing year of turmoil, change, escalating highs and plummeting lows. You may be in the throes of beginning your thesis research (do it now, for your own sake). You're probably planning graduation celebrations and contemplating your final teaching placements. This will be a phenomenally busy year which you will desperately want to put into slow motion, but can't.

Prepare yourself for the pinnacle of your years as a student; graduation day. But be aware that graduation is a false summit. Just as you reach the top, ready to fling down your rucksack and open your celebratory picnic, you realise there are others ahead of you on higher slopes and that the real peak is at a much higher altitude than you thought. Your heart may sink, but heed these words: take a deep breath and keep going.

I remember a poster that one of my teachers displayed in her classroom many years ago, of a snowy mountain top which bore the legend: "It's easier to go down hill than to keep climbing, but the view is from the top." Well you know that, you've already gained great height; but don't get rid of your crampons yet because you need to keep climbing. Such is the nature of education.

Anyone trying to become a teacher in Scotland should become an avid reader of the Scottish press (all have their "education days") and The TES Scotland. Apply, apply, apply and when you're done, apply some more. As well as applying for advertised posts, phone your local education office about registering for supply work. Do this before the end of the summer term because supply interviews may be held before schools break up. These interviews can lead to long-term posts for some probationers - it could be you!

Once accepted for supply teaching, don't take it as read that schools know about you from day one of the new session. Up-to-date lists of supply teachers may not be issued until two or three weeks into the new term. Take your CV or a business card, a copy of your National Profile and a reference from your college (if you have one), and visit schools in your area.

Alternatively, if you don't want to wander unannounced into a school you don't know, then send the headteacher a short note enclosing this information. You might get a bland reception in one school and be greeted with open arms in another. Such is life. Be prepared to apply for anything, anywhere, everywhere.

If no full-time work comes your way, you'll be in a quandary about whether to apply for part-time, job-share or relief posts. The choice is yours. Some will advise you against them, others will say a part-time contract is better than none - however, would you regret it, if you were asked to do a term's work but could not accept it because of your day-a-week commitment?

Only you can find your way out of this dilemma. There are hundreds waiting behind you looking for that job and you don't want to and can't afford to appear ungrateful and unwilling. The phrase "short and curlies" highlights the predicament of the probationer eloquently.

When applying for posts, you'll encounter at least 57 varieties of application forms, which nobody at college warns you about. Some require the bare minimum of name, address and qualification; others ask about aspects of your teaching, your personal philosophy and why you think you're suitable for this particular position - which is mind-boggling in itself, when you want to say that you're suitable for any position as long as it involves teaching.

The run of interviews, if you're lucky enough to get that far, can be confusing. Attending two interviews on consecutive days can lead you to think that you're some sort of waffle-repeating machine. But use the experience well, present yourself in your best light. With the volume of applications for these posts, it is to your credit to be on the shortlist.

Despite having heard the horror stories and urban myths, all the interviewers I have met have been perfectly human and are not two-headed, one-eyed androids from the Planet 5-14.

Remember that who you know is often a lot more influential than what. So, keep your contacts; your old headteacher, your neighbour who teaches at a local school, your teaching practice teachers, because someone might know someone else who needs a bright young thing for a term or two. Don't lose sight of your college friends; swap ideas, resources and phone numbers. They will provide a vital network of support and information on prospective vacancies or even just a shoulder to cry on when you're feeling stuck in the limbo of waiting for work.

When the chance to work does come, grasp what you are offered with both hands (teeth and feet too). Make the most of it. Some teachers will be ultra-organised and you will feel like you're a babysitter in their fully automated classrooms. Others will seem to have hidden all signs of human life, but like The X-Files, the truththe reading recordthe register is out there . . . but it's not in the cupboard, and it's not in the folder where it should be, it's not under the pile of books on the desk and it's not . . . Well, if in doubt, ask a pupil and if they can't find it, you know the teacher has probably taken it home.

To keep good order and discipline in your new class, at college you're often told, "Don't smile until October", the theory being that the kids will think you're a dragon and by the time they realise you're not, they're on their way to the next teacher.

However, supply teaching is different. You're only there for the day and you must assess the situation rapidly, while working out names, seating and recording the lunches. If you can get this little piece of administration sorted out, then you're on your way to a successful day.

Also, get used to calling pupils by a different, incorrect name, because they sat where that other pupil sat in your last class, last school, last week - and so many of them look alike. I'm sure Scottish schools are being infiltrated by some form of genetic cloning and it's only the supply teachers of the world that will be able to give early warning of this.

As a teacher on the supply list, you'll find that you can't plan your life and that you constantly find yourself saying: "If I'm not working I'll wash the cardo some shoppingvisit that friend." Flexibility becomes the name of the game, but then hasn't it always been? You can find yourself busy and in demand one week and then all goes quiet for another two.

Use your "free" time (because you aren't getting paid) productively. Cultivate your other interests, create a resource bank of activity ideas to take into school. Don't stagnate by the phone - get an answering machine and a life!

You may be one of the lucky ones, but don't expect automatic full-time entry into the profession. Many have been qualified for a couple of years and have been on supply for that time. You may want to look beyond your immediate job specification of primary teacher.

Colleagues with the same training as myself have found themselves in learning support departments of secondary schools or special needs units in primary schools.

They have no obvious experience in these areas, but were interviewed and came across as being capable and interested and so were given the post.

For most of us there may be, as yet, no "happily ever after" - but if you persevere and persist and are committed enough, there will be a "to be continued".

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