In the best of both worlds

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
The first year in class is tough, so newcomers need all the support they can get. Three probationers and a mentor talk to Karen Shead about their experiences

Deborah Lee, 32, has been doing her probationary year at St Vincent's Primary in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire

'It is hard to believe that my probationary year is almost over. This year has been a massive learning curve in terms of adjusting to school routine, practices and policy, learning the curriculum in-depth and everything which that encompasses - forward plans, assessment records, reporting and so on.

I feel the whole year has been one long CPDsession.

And there is the debate of what constitutes individual professional development, what continuing professional development and what simply counts as "gaining experience within school". To draw distinctions, the form in the General Teaching Council for Scotland's Achieving the Standard for Full Registration: Guidance for new Teachers booklet has two sections under "Record of Continuing Professional Development Activities", namely planning and preparation and core professional development activities.

South Lanarkshire has a programme of 10 or so core probationer courses which have covered issues such as raising achievement, managing behaviour and developing thinking. Most of these courses offer some insightful and practical activities to take back to the classroom, while a few have been reminiscent of college lectures. The variety of speakers and issues tackled has been really helpful.

South Lanarkshire also offers probationers the chance to be accredited for the work they produce in gathering evidence for completing the standard for full registration, in the form of two certificated modules. These can then be used towards a post-graduate qualification in education, such as a Masters degree, at any time in the next five years.

The course is voluntary and at first I wondered whether I had the time or inclination to complete a minimum of another two modules in the next five years. But having gathered some evidence from my daily practice, all I really needed to do was read up on the theory side, and this too has proved valuable, although I did feel some reluctance about steeping myself in education theory again so soon after graduating.

The majority of my 0.3 non-class contact time has been spent on curricular studies, planning topics and their assessment, reading the latest authority policy on, say, early intervention and inclusion, and - at the start of the year in particular - learning how to create a forward plan and how to plan a full teaching block.

This non-class contact time has been invaluable and much envied by other staff. At the start of the year there was inevitably the odd joke that I was slacking off and lucky to have relaxation time, but there is more understanding now about how much is involved in the probationer year and there is a sense of mutual respect.

I have also been integrated into the early intervention team and support pupils with learning needs. This takes up a chunk of my 0.3 time and gives me experience of working with other classes.

Other probationers I know have been given various class stages to work with, sometimes for a whole day, sometimes for one curricular area, but most have time out, give or take the odd emergency cover.

I have also used this time to prepare lessons for classroom visits, or to plan lessons that contain large practical elements and so require a variety of resources not readily on hand.

The special needs auxiliary assigned to my class has a huge knowledge of school resources and useful websites, and without her my tasks would have been much more arduous than they were.

From my weekly meetings with my mentor, Liz Walker, who has been a tower of strength and never once grimaced at my deluge of questions, I, or she, would highlight certain aspects of classroom practice that I could work on, such as the purpose of the task or assessment strategies, and I would ensure this was included in my plans and followed through in my own practice.

The bulk of my continuing professional development has focused on improving my classroom practice. Here, a lot of the development happens on a daily basis, from your own evaluations and listening to and questioning other staff, all of whom have been very willing to help a probationer in distress.

The simple administrative task this year of having to record various types of activities under specific headings should also keep me in good stead when it comes to recording the mandatory 35 hours of CPD outwith the working year once I'm in a full-time teaching post. But I'll leave that as a concern for the new term. By then I hope to be able to put all this development to good use and have my first class of pupils as a qualified primary teacher.

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