Task force and other survival techniques

16th September 2005 at 01:00
So much to remember: names of teachers and of pupils, signing in, signing out, class plans, discipline policy and homework policy, reading records, reports and parents' evenings, assessment for learning, feedback, peer assessment, Phoenix, self-evaluation, pigeon holes, staffroom etiquette and the nearest toilet I Well my head didn't actually burst but for a few scary hours of the first day of the probation year it felt as if it could.

The bombardment of information didn't become stressful until the second week. For the first week I developed a kind of shock absorber that helped me to retain the information and with a scary confidence I thought I was doing OK. By week two the penny dropped, because when I've tried to process and put into practice some of the information, time-management and task-prioritising suddenly cease being textbook buzzwords and become survival techniques.

On my graduation day from the PGCE course I was wondering how I'd managed to slip through. It's a short, condensed year and although I'd started feeling enthusiasm for the job and an academic confidence, I felt daunted by the thought of day to day teaching and the responsibility for getting the best grades possible for my classes.

So starts the professional paranoia that must plague even the most confident of new teachers. It's a concern in particular, I think, for students like myself who have only known student life and whose only paid employment has been waiting on tables. Suddenly to hold a large amount of responsibility after a few short placements and a lot of educational theory is a little unnerving.

Consultation with other recent graduates after their first two weeks confirmed I wasn't the only one feeling slightly "at sea".

So far I couldn't have asked for a better buoyancy aid than the school staff. There are two probationers at Lockerbie Academy this year. The school has a history of taking on probationary teachers, some of whom are now on the full-time teaching staff.

The staff seem to pride themselves on being a close-knit community and yet are welcoming to "newbies". I haven't met anyone yet, in any department, who hasn't said "if there's anything you need help with..."

The support network for probationers couldn't be better. As well as clinging to the shirt tails of experts in the English department, I've found the former probationers particularly approachable for all those low-level questions that you wouldn't want to bother more senior management.

As well as weekly meetings with my supporter, I have a weekly meeting with the principal teacher, for more subject-based discussions, and another weekly meeting with a third teacher, from the PE department, who has gallantly volunteered to help "newbies" with any additional worries not discussed at the supporter meeting.

So far the issues in these meetings have been mainly behavioural concerns, as we both come to terms with dealing with fourth years. The support system in the school has been visible and operational from day one.

The school also offers an abundance of extra-curricular activities, which include anything from chess to a Friday night curling club. The next few weeks will hopefully present a chance to research these for our professional portfolios, although the most immediate worry at the moment is the supervised lessons (the "crit" lessons) which will start soon.

My most important first steps have been establishing authority in the classroom, particularly with the older years who have been "trying it on" a little, as well as trying to assess and evaluate the class dynamics and needs of each class. It's difficult to plan ahead when you don't know a class.

The school processes and policies will become habit, I'm told. Healthy advice too is to take regular breaks. It seems there will always be something that needs to be done, so prioritising and setting personal deadlines is important. Trying to bite off too much at once will only lead to confusion, or possibly indigestion.

Nicola Clark is a probationer teacher in the English department at Lockerbie Academy, Dumfries and GallowayIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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