Class of 2009 - how was it for you?
At the beginning of this session, we spoke to seven student teachers embarking on their postgraduate course (TESS, September 5). This month, we caught up with them again, as their studies drew to a close, and asked them to share the highs and lows of the teacher training year, and the lessons learnt.
One had withdrawn, but six were successfully completing the course. Almost all said it was a huge amount of work. Most should have been firmer with the children from the start, they admitted, but still felt it important to build rapport.
Several talked about how essential it was to be organised. All found the children rewarding. One or two had experienced really low points. But few had had second thoughts, and all now feel strongly that teaching is right for them.
Suzanne Somerville, Primary at Dundee University
"I think I'll be fair but strict, and I'll be super-organised. My ambition is simply to be a good teacher." (September 2008)
I wasn't as strict as I should have been at the start. So I read a lot of Sue Cowley (author of How to Survive Your First Year in Teaching, Getting the Buggers to Behave) and began setting my expectations of the children, and getting theirs of me, as soon as I got into a class.
I never shout at them. We were taught at university to use tone rather than volume, so I focus on creating a positive ethos so that children want to behave.
The course was brilliant, very forward-thinking with lots of support from the tutors. It's a hard year, though, and you do need to be organised. On a pre-visit to a placement, for instance, I'd try to get as much as I could from the teacher, so on my first day I could start teaching right away.
Highlights of the year were the support from the teachers and all the things I learned from them. There was also a wee incident on a school trip to Edinburgh Zoo, some time after I'd taught a project on conservation - the children were asked if they knew anything about the American mink, and one little boy said: "It's an invader and very bad for the water vole". He'd learnt that from me. It's lovely to see children make sense in their own terms of things you've worked hard at.
Stephanie Devenney, Secondary history at Strathclyde University
"I knew trying to become a teacher in Scotland would be an uphill battle, but decided to go for it. I have always wanted to teach. And if I can teach in Scotland, that will be amazing." (September 2008)
At first, I kept hearing I was too nice to the kids. I've had to work at being firm. It feels unnatural not to smile at them. You can let your personality come through, I've found, at the same time as being firm when necessary.
On my final placement, I developed a nice rapport, particularly with one third-year class. I got my teeth into the teaching and tried new stuff. We did a topic on emigration and I brought in lots of things from the States to make it real and use my life as an example. They gave me a round of applause when I was leaving and told me I was a good teacher.
As a student from the United States, I'm not eligible for the teacher induction scheme, so I've been looking for a job since January, but not found one. I may have to go to England, or further abroad.
I don't want to leave Scotland. But if you're not in the induction scheme, you're on your own. The General Teaching Council for Scotland just said to apply for jobs and if I got one to let them know.
I'll be sad if I have to leave Scotland after three years here. I'm disheartened sometimes, but mostly optimistic. I keep hoping it will work out and a miracle will happen to let me stay.
Jenna Clayton, Secondary English at Strathclyde University
"I've heard mixed things about the course. Some say you don't have a spare minute; others, that it's a walk in the park." (September 2008)
It was much more challenging than I expected. Nobody on my course found it easy. Lectures at the start were all theory and I couldn't see the point because I hadn't been in a classroom. It makes more sense now, but we could have watched a lot of it on video.
The low point in the schools was the "not yet satisfactory" I got for classroom management on my first placement. I was gutted. I went home totally deflated.
There were only two ways from there - let myself be defeated, or try to improve. Throughout my second placement, I was still doubting if I could do it. It was only after that that I started to think "I can be a teacher if I want it enough."
I became more assertive throughout a lesson, rather than pulling out an assertive persona. I didn't let anyone talk over me, where I used to just keep talking, hoping they'd come back to me.
One of my strengths, I've been told, is the rapport with the pupils. At the start, I was too nice perhaps, but having that rapport makes the job more enjoyable for me and the subject more interesting for the kids.
On my final placement I got several merits. The one that pleased me the most was for behaviour management.
Angus Mackay, Gaelic medium primary at Strathclyde University
"I've no illusions it'll be easy. Primary kids are hungry to learn, soaking it up, eager to feed it back to you. As a teacher, I'll be traditional, but not fire and brimstone." (September 2008)
The kids know that you're new and aren't familiar with routines, so they push the boundaries. On my last placement with a P1-3 class, one of them starts eating an apple - a couple of his mates see what he's doing and toddle over for an apple too. You think, "That can't be right". But it is health week and there's a box of apples in the corner. So you're not sure.
Other times they help you out. On my first placement, they'd say things like: "We line up over there" or "She keeps the jotters here". They were trying to keep me right. They were brilliant.
All the classroom stuff was great - hugely challenging though, especially the wee ones. It doesn't matter how many lectures you go to, you still have so much to learn on the job, about classroom routines, domestics, admin - quite apart from preparing and delivering lessons.
Most children in Gaelic-medium education aren't native speakers, but they have no hang-ups. It's total immersion, so you don't speak a word of English to them, and by P3 they've got it and have all the benefits of bilingualism.
Towards the end of your final placement, there are 10 days when you do absolutely everything. That's when I felt it coming together. You know you will still have setbacks, but when the kids start really responding, that's when you say to yourself, "I can be a teacher".
Annette Iafrate, Secondary geography at Glasgow University
"I worked in a call centre all the time I was a student. I've got my own car and bills, so I'll keep working there this year. If I can't get a job in teaching, I can always stay with the bank. But I don't want to. I want to be a teacher." (September 2008)
I'm enjoying teaching so much it doesn't feel like work, and the year has gone so fast. You meet so many different types of kids and every class is different, so you never know what to expect.
As long as you manage your time, you can get everything done and still have a life. If you don't take a little time for yourself, you get stressed and get less done.
The toughest thing for me has been teaching pupils who don't want to be in school. You have to think up ways to make lessons interesting and help them do their best. All the resources out there now - such as Google Earth with zooming into street-level - can help you do that. They make it more active, and you can find things for every type of learner.
Highlights were lessons such as making models of glaciated features with an all-boys third-year class, using play dough. It was fun, active and very messy, and the boys loved it. There was an S2 class I took outside to do the Coke and Mentos experiment at the end of a unit. When they came back inside, they were eager to get on with their enquiry reports.
The support I got at university and in the schools was great. There was always someone to go to for help, advice or reassurance.
Being a teacher is what I have always aspired to. So standing in a classroom and realising that I am doing what I've wanted to for so long gives me a great sense of achievement.
Jonathan Marshal, Primary at Aberdeen University
"One thing I will bring to the job from coaching (skiing) is how to help children make good choices. As a coach, you do that all the time." (September 2008)
This final placement isn't easy, even though I only have eight kids. It's a composite Primary 1-4, with a huge range of development and ability, so it's harder than teaching a full class of Primary 7s.
The course has been fantastic. Aberdeen University got top-notch people in to talk to us, such as Martin Rouse (director of the inclusive practice project at Aberdeen University). He was inspiring. Then they had an artist showing how he got kids interacting with his work. It gave me loads of ideas.
Listening to these people made me more willing to take risks. I'm doing a project on the life cycle of the butterfly with the P1-4s, and we're making a big butterfly out of copper wire. We're not there yet. I might have bitten off more of the leaf than I can chew.
The coaching was particularly useful with boys who kept getting into trouble. You could see why and you wanted to help them, because they were a good bunch really. I started running a football club for them, taught a few PE lessons.
One boy was giving immigrant kids a hard time, so I talked to him, asked how he'd feel if he was in their country without the language. It's a different approach to just punishing them for breaking school rules. You try to get them thinking. It worked well in that school with those children. But when I have my own class - who knows?