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

Liz Walker has been depute headteacher at St Vincent's Primary in East Kilbride for nine years and teaching since 1969

'Working with Deborah has been a delight. We have become good friends and both grown tremendously in our posts.

Trying to ensure she has the best possible support has allowed me to evaluate my own progress and reflect on my own values.

Planning was one of the main areas I've been very aware of. Staff involvement and agendas all contribute to the smooth running of the programme and, of course, flexibility is important. Careful planning was vital to ensure that Deborah receives all the support we can give her and that she has the best possible start to her teaching career.

From the very beginning, we organised a time to work with her on a one-to-one basis. We had an agenda including a follow-on from the previous week, a report from Deborah on her South Lanarkshire courses, discussion of strategies being tried out in the class and so on. We allocated time for preparation for her classroom visits, checking the purpose of the visits against criteria set down in the standard for full registration.

We decided on visits to other classes and departments where Deborah would spend time observing and taking part in supporting and teaching groups, each with a particular focus. We also worked on forward planning and preparing for parent evenings.

In the early stages, we spent quite a bit of time together. I had shifted my time around to allow me to spend more time with her to help her with forward planning and getting to know the day-to-day organisation of the school. Then this moved into a situation where we would meet up on a regular basis for an hour and a half each week. The rest of the time Deborah was involved in other curricular activities.

It took up a lot of time in the early stages until we got it right. We found a good balance between my support and her own input and responsibility.

Deborah has taken part in a wide variety of school-based activities, which is an important part of the probationary period. She was involved in our early intervention programme as I felt that this would give her an insight into working with parents and children in schools. I involved her in the planning, taking part in workshops and in the evaluation. This proved to be a great success and it is something we would definitely include next year.

Part of Deborah's CPD was research reading, which was something I also took part in. This gave us a chance to discuss what we had read and learnt.

I also received staff development from South Lanarkshire council prior to Deborah's probationary period. The authority outlined the programme at a meeting with supporters. Indeed, support from the authorities is crucial as there is a huge amount of information to be disseminated. It is vital that the mentor undertake the appropriate training and be fully conversant with the procedure before the year begins. It is a must also for the mentor to meet with the school staff at the beginning of the session and outline the programme and the vital part they have to play.

Time is also important. In my position, I am non-class committed and so I was able to move some of my non-teaching times to allow time for meetings with Deborah, but not everyone will be able to do this. This is an issue for those mentors who do have classes. This is a difficult area to manage, of course, but the programme is a priority.

It has been a year for teething problems to be sorted out and for all of us - probationers, teachers, schools and authorities - to build on what is an excellent opportunity for probationary teachers.

This programme is light years away from what has gone before and it is something that staff who were not lucky enough to benefit from it have to deal with. In the past, probationers were very much at the mercy of the set-up of the school they found themselves in. Often they were launched into a class and support in the school could be good, bad or indifferent.

This is certainly a first.

Working with Deborah made me think about my own early years as an infant teacher with a class of 55 in the south of Glasgow. It was an awful time because there was no help available. It was very different. Trying to cope with the fact that my college training bore no relation to what I was doing in class was a really steep learning curve.

I have really enjoyed this year and would welcome taking on mentoring again. I have taken great satisfaction from the programme and from the experience. It has been rewarding, utterly satisfying and a privilege to work with someone who is at the start of their career.

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