My wildest dreams
I FIND decisions hard - soup flavour, sock colour, Revels or Maltesers, that kind of thing - so ticking the preference-waiver box and giving away any say over where I spent my probation year seemed natural. "Why not throw yourself into this great lottery and see what you win?" I thought.
"Comhairle nan Eilean Siar?" less intrepid friends whispered with concern. "Is that even in Scotland?" Just.
My prize was a year on the rocky Isle of Lewis, teetering on the edge of the Atlantic and famous for black pudding, beaches and tweed. Those who had chosen their futures felt vindicated: "Look where we could have ended up!" Me? I was ready for the adventure.
Sort of. I'm a city girl, I get twitchy if I'm more than 100ft from the nearest soy caramel macchiato, so when I discovered my fate I asked an islander friend for advice.
"Make friends," she said. "Join things and take up new hobbies. Even in winter when it's snowing, go to the beach. Because if you don't learn to love what the island has, you'll hate what it doesn't. And don't think about how much you'll miss trees."
My imagination ran wild. I pictured an old, whitewashed Victorian schoolroom, my classroom windows looking directly on to a windswept beach, and a tiny class of welly-booted, woolly-jumpered children clamouring to feed the class sheep.
I could see myself sprawled on the machair, marking homework in the evening sun. I would take the class out for daily explorations of rock pools, or to practise letter formation in the golden sand.
The blue blocks in our watercolour trays would be entirely worn down after painting endless pictures of breathtaking seascapes.
I was right about one thing - it was windswept. In July we were still eagerly awaiting spring.
My other predictions were less accurate. I was posted to Stornoway, the big smoke, to teach an average-sized class of children in a large school. So no one routinely wore wellies and granny-knitted jumpers, and no lambs were in sight. It was a whole 10-minute drive to the beach, and I didn't take any marking there for fear that it would get blown to America before I even left the car.
But it has been an adventure. I've learned how to teach through a power cut and a force 12 gale (everything's more fun by torchlight), and how to cope without shopping on Sundays or drinking posh coffees every day.
Most importantly, I have learned how teaching, more than any other profession I have known, brings you into the heart of a community.
I loved my probation year. Ticking that box enabled me live in a magnificently remote part of the world, which I would never otherwise have been able to do.
I leave the island more confident, more flexible and incredibly grateful to the friends I made along the way.
Joanna Rose is a newly qualified teacher in Scotland