Take time for deserving pat on the back

21st October 2005 at 01:00
I read somewhere that the two most stressful things you can do are move home and change job. Little wonder, then, that my head feels like it has been thoroughly centrifuged.

My once calm, reflective cerebrum feels as if it has been reduced to a pathetic lump of pulsating goo. Like every probationer I'm sure, I have felt the twinges of work pressure this month: this is what real stress feels like. If sleep deprivation and stress speed up the ageing process, then by my reckoning I'll be 102 by Christmas.

By this odd logic I've made the decision to splurge my well earned advantageloyaltymarketing surveillance points on some anti-ageing, chemically enhanced wonder creams. I even, subconsciously, opted for an anti-age hair shampoo recently, having felt a definite loosening of follicles.

I never even considered this year would have a serious physical impact.

Yes, I am looking forward to being fully registered, but not looking like weary-eyed Lily Savage at the end of it.

I'm told that this is the easiest half term, that things really start to pick up after Christmas. Crikey. However, looking back to the first couple of weeks, it is amazing just how much has become familiar. Processes and procedures are becoming routine. I might even try to realign my work-home balance this month.

It is a real effort to switch off. Advice from colleagues is that there is always going to be something that needs doing in teaching. It's a conveyer belt that doesn't stop running until the summer. So, by this reckoning, it is OK to let the odd lot of marking do another lap of the belt and take a "time-out".

My friends have been complaining that I seem to have slid off the social radar altogether. It will be nice to meet up with some of them during the break, if only to reassure them I haven't diedjoined a cultbeen abducted by another intelligence.

This month I have, like most probationers, had the first of nine observations that will be carried out this year. There is nothing like someone with a clipboard full of Standard for Registration benchmarks and a busy pen sitting at the back of your class to put you at ease.

We were told at university that the observations during the probation year would be far less formal than the dreaded "crit" and it would therefore be much less daunting. Porkies.

I had my third years observed and did allow for some lessening of disruption with a member of the senior management team in the room.

However, the room was so deathly quiet I lost not just the usual low-level attempts to disrupt the class but also the hands in the air and any rapport that had been built up.

The spotlight on me seemed to sharpen and I swear I saw a mass of fuzzy tumbleweed cross the room. Very unnerving.

However, the feedback was positive and that, I think, is the difference between university "crits" and probation observations; there is much less finality about them and a clear context of constructive criticism designed to help you improve.

This month the school has been completing early warnings. It is addressing concerns of both attainment and attitude issues in class. It is a veritable bout of school-wide bud-nipping. The early warning sheets go home and are, not surprisingly, very effective. They form part of the ongoing tracking system in the school, which, coupled with the rising use of Phoenix and its incident manager program, means that each pupil can be monitored across the subjects.

A teacher at St Modan's High in Stirling once told me that teaching is not a profession you can do half-heartedly and, from the little I have seen of it so far, I couldn't agree more. You may have the odd day when you feel stressed and feel like the unrelenting conveyor belt is getting faster, but the kids will still be there expecting a lesson.

And that's the buzz of it: it's turning the stress into adrenaline and learning to enjoy the highs as well as evaluate the lows. This means operating your own evaluation, as we do with the pupils.

Another probationer in the school and I have decided we are going to give ourselves periodic pats on the back. Just as assertive discipline and Assessment is for Learning decree operating with praise and positive feedback with the pupils, so should we be doing in our own practice.

Starting with the little things, today I managed to breathe throughout the whole day with little faltering and some effort to regulate.

Nicola Clark is a probationer English teacher at Lockerbie AcademyIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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