Primed for a launch into the profession

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Elaine Mitchell meets four teacher trainees who have just completed their postgraduate year Following 36 weeks of stress, fatigue and academic machination, Marian Randall feels she has come up trumps - well, almost.

Along with the three fellow teacher trainees whom the TES Scotland has charted through their tense and often exhaustive post-graduate year, she has gained that coveted certificate allowing her to teach in a Scottish classroom. Justly proud of their achievements, and the personal development gained through their courses, the newly qualified foursome have now fallen into limbo.

Despite their hard work, none has managed to secure a post. They face the future in trepidation. All are concerned over the impact of local government reorganisation, reductions in funding and their future in a battered profession.

With increasing numbers chasing each vacancy - up to 150 applicants for each primary post in Strathclyde and up to 50 for every secondary post in English - their sense of trepidation is justified. Rather than leave college with the security of a first posting, they face the prospect of supply work, followed by temporary contracts followed by, if luck prevails, permanent employment.

Our graduates have some hope to hold onto. Each of them knows of classmates who managed to secure posts on leaving college. Some were lucky enough to secure jobs in schools where they enjoyed successful practice placements, others, particularly Gaelic medium teachers, have benefited from selective demand.

Within secondary schools, a "distinction" in practice or subject, which places students among the top10 per cent, has given some that edge of success over their competitors.

Assured by a classmate brimming with the confidence of youth that her distinctions would have her "snapped up", Valerie Dillon has yet to experience the phenomenon. Juxtaposing the mild cynicism of maturity with hope engendered by conviction, the St Andrew's College graduate spent the week between close of college and the end of the school term frantically seeking a post.

Armed with copies of her testimonial, she toured Angus, Fife, Dundee and Perth, advertising her availability to as many headteachers as possible. In addition, she has applied to the local authorities now responsible for these areas.

She must now wait to see if her new-found experience and ability to teach religious education, modern studies and English literature will outweigh geographical inflexibility and age. Despite being assured that her age, and the higher starting salary implicated by it, will not hamper her chances, Ms Dillon will remain unconvinced until she secures a post.

Conversely, she acknowledges the advantages of her 39 years. "So many people go into teaching and don't make a life-long career out of it," she explained. "For me, this is definitely going to be my last career. I remain 100 per cent committed to this. Teaching is the challenging, stimulating and rewarding job I thought it would be."

Relaxing after her weeks of commuting between Dundee and Glasgow, she has had time to reflect, and has "absolutely no regrets" about her decision to go into teaching and to study at St Andrew's. "It has been a tough, but very enjoyable course and the best year of my life in terms of self-development."

The same is not true of Marian. "I don't know if I enjoyed it," she confessed. Her primary course at Edinburgh's Moray House Institute was "fine", but the intensity of the training coupled with the raw nerves experienced on placements and the pressing demands of a young family proved stressful. She is both relieved and "amazed" at getting through.

She does not regret her decision to go into primary teaching, but she does regret the "naivety" with which that decision was made. Her two-year spell working as a classroom assistant failed to prepare her for the levels of paperwork and organisation modern class planning necessitates. "I used to hear teachers complaining about forward planning and things, but when you are in amongst it, it's a very different story," she said.

The strengths and weaknesses of her course, she identified, paradoxically, as the same thing. "I have to say that I feel we could have done with more practical help in the nuts and bolts of how to teach a class," she said. But, given the short training period, Ms Randall welcomed the amount of time allowed for hands-on-experience in the classroom. "You see what happens in a class, how different people organise lessons and get ideas from that. Really the emphasis is on you - I don't know how you could alter the balance of the course. "

Anxious to secure a post in Edinburgh city and put her talents to work, she had some words of advice for undergraduates contemplating a career in teaching. "You have to be prepared to work very hard and to be depressed about how things are going," she said. "We all went through some quite hard times, no-one sailed through the course without disillusion at some point."

For a secondary teacher, George McDaid, disappointment hit hard at the end of his course. He gained a merit for teaching practice in history, but a border-line appeal to gain merit in his preferred subject of English was unsuccessful. "It was very close, but not close enough," he deduced.

"The course has ended in a bit of an anti-climax," he confessed. "I feel in a trough, at the back of my mind I think it will all have been a waste of time if I don't get a job." He knows of only five classmates who have secured posts and has been warned that, because of local government reorganisation, the jobs are slow in emerging with most authorities planning to advertise at the end of the summer.

With gloom seeping into his voice, he said: "I would love to get a job, but, until August, it is limbo. I have been told that, on average, there are 60 applicants for each job and they shortlist about four or five for each. A lot of it is down to the application forms which are very open-ended and need a lot of work to ensure yours doesn't end up at the bottom of the pile."

While bemoaning the job situation, he remains "glad" that he completed the course at Craigie campus of Paisley University. "It has been a very busy year, a lot of work and stress, but it has improved me and strengthened my confidence. I don't feel like a fully fledged teacher, I have got through the first lap, but there are still a few to go."

For those planning to follow in his footsteps, Mr McDaid advises they ditch the "jargon and academic double-speak" and simplify their language. "There is a tendency to come out of university and think that you are good with your subjects," he said, "but, sometimes to take a step back can be harder than going forward."

Simplification has almost become second nature to Jim Gillon, of Stoneburn, West Lothian. After completing a BA in business studies at Edinburgh University, he enrolled in Jordanhill's Primary course.

"We were promised a whirlwind year with lots of hard work and that's exactly what we got. Each evening for the past 36 weeks, he has come home to an average of more than three hours' preparatory work. For some, at times, it has been hard to see the wood for the trees. Jim could identify no real complaints or regrets allied to his course other than the pressures of time. He does, however, regret not having found a post, especially as he is committed to a summer abroad.

As others scour the papers for jobs, Mr Gillon will be in the heat of the West Virginia coaching primary-age boys on soccer skills. "This is a job I did last year and was asked back. I am worried about missing interviews in the meantime, but I have committed myself to it and it may be my last chance to do something like this."

Like of all the trainees interviewed for this series, Jim Gillon is in search of that evasive element, that little edge of interest or achievement which will set him apart from others in a competitive job market. He concludes: "Schools know what you have done in college. It is the extras that mark you out. "

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