A time of hope and reflection

4th April 2003 at 01:00
The hot news this month is that in some regions the prospect of future employment is looking decidedly rosier for probationers and recently qualified teachers who are still on the permanent supply chain.

My network of fellow probationers tells me that some regions are offering early retirement packages to the "more mature" teachers (some with quite a nice enhancement, I gather) in the hope that this will prove attractive and free up some posts.

I'm sure that there are other local council objectives behind this, but to many it will come as a relief that gaining a permanent post in the near future is a real possibility. So, the opposite ends of the spectrum are quite pleased, which leaves the "middle" cursing both the luck of new teachers and "old" ones (no offence intended).

Teacher disillusionment is not new, but from talking with others it appears that there is more unhappiness than genuine enjoyment in teaching these days. Perhaps this typifies all professions, in that it is very easy to go with the flow and criticise your workload, senior management figures and the "public" - in our case, the quality of pupils - but it is hard to remain enthusiastic and upbeat when others all around warn of your naivety and how it will change soon.

It is also increasingly difficult to remain focused and disciplined when, as probationers, we are scrutinised on all aspects of the curriculum and our classroom management and organisation, while the same rules do not apparently apply to those more experienced teachers who seem above the level of planning and organisation that is drummed into us at university or college and during this one-year placement.

I know from discussions with other probationers at courses that one of the particular difficulties this year has been the sharing of a class with another, often very experienced, teacher who does not use the same positive behaviour strategies you may employ, does not take heed of the planning you have prepared or is reluctant to relinquish control and take time to discuss classroom issues with you on a weekly, never mind daily, basis.

Then again, it is easy to criticise, as I have said many a time before, and there are many experienced teachers I have come across who are only too happy to share the benefit of their experience with you and also be open to new ideas. Perhaps in 30 years' time I will feel I have earned the right to be less scrutinised and managed; but will that mean I have lost my ability to be a reflective practitioner?

One benefit arising from this difficult situation is that, should we ever be in a position where we are supporting a probationer or sharing their class, we will know exactly what not to do. I, for one, will endeavour to do things very differently with any future protege.

The time for end-of-year reports is looming and again I feel the burden of responsibility when commenting on the ability of 25-plus pupils in more than 16 subjects. Trying to be diplomatic and forceful is a delicate balance. How to appease parents' concerns but criticise their child at the same time? This is where the benefit of experience, no doubt, comes into its own.

Report time is also a stark reminder of how quickly this year has gone. It will soon be time to leave behind the class and school which you were thrust upon. I think that many probationers, once they take stock of where they were in August and where they are now or will be come June, will realise that a huge amount of learning, both professionally and personally, has taken place and that it was never as bad as we thought it was.

Challenging and a lot of hard work - lots and lots of hard work and late nights and fretting - yes, but we never thought it was going to be easy, did we?

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