Is there life beyond the finishing line?

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
It's the end of the year for another batch of newly qualified teachers. Eight hopefuls talk to Douglas Blane about their experiences - but only two have jobs to go to. Illustration by James Fryer

Carol Mason, Primary teacher Mount Cameron Primary, South Lanarkshire

The hardest part about being a probationer is that I won't get to see these kids again. We've come through wee traumas and excitements, and great big celebrations too. They're my kids. They'll say: "I'll bring you a stick of rock from my holidays" or "Can we come to your after-school cookery club next year?" I have to say I won't be here. That's hard.

The highlight was something that happened with every child during the year.

You'd see them struggling, really trying to work something out. All of a sudden their faces would light up and they'd go, "ah". That's fabulous.

It's why I'm in the job - to get that big smile and that "Yeah, I've got it, I've done it, I've achieved something."

I did the postgraduate course while working as a classroom assistant. I prefer being the teacher because you're responsible for everything in the classroom.

It has been a good year. This school uses assertive discipline, which puts the onus on the children and works really well.

I don't know what happens next. I've applied for lots of jobs, had interviews that went well, and I've got good references. But there just aren't enough jobs. Out of the 20 people I was at university with, only one has a job. It's scary.

Richard Hall, Craft and design teacher Musselburgh Grammar, East Lothian

A lot of probationers I know are struggling for jobs. I was lucky to get a permanent one here. Before going back to university, I'd worked for a couple of years. I had always fancied teaching, but wondered if I'd be able to handle a class. I discovered I could.

I'm a fairly relaxed teacher, but the kids know where the boundaries are. I like bringing the best out of kids who don't expect to do well.

One of the highlights was working with a blind first-year pupil. I did a lot of work to adapt and find resources to help her access the curriculum, and to make sure the workshop was a safe place for her. If other kids had to do a sketch, we'd build a 3D model so she could touch it and learn how to lay things out. We adapted the tools in the workshop and developed templates for design. It worked well.

Another highlight was getting the permanent job here. That took a lot of the pressure off. It meant I could concentrate on the teaching, which was great.

Susan McNamara, English teacher Trinity High, Renfrewshire

I believe you have to be strict with kids. It's the backbone of a good education. You have to be consistent and firm. When I went to school, discipline wasn't that good so I wasn't engaged. I worked in industry for a while before going to university to study classics. Greek is my favourite, particularly Homer, which is poetic and extremely appealing.

I was looking for something more rewarding than business, although I don't mean financially. I think the classics, particularly the life of Socrates, teach you that being materialistic isn't the way - education is.

I enjoy teaching literature and I've been running an after-school classics club. If you can teach kids from deprived backgrounds how to read and write properly, you can really make a difference.

My mentor is experienced and very approachable. She looked after me really well. We had one organised meeting a week, but I usually had a word with her every day, especially at first.

I have managed to get a permanent job in another school. I'm going to miss the kids here - we've been on a journey together. I remember one first year came to me for help with a personal matter because she said she felt she could trust me. That shows you can be strict with kids, but they still see you as human.

Yvonne Boyle Primary teacher St Ninians Primary, Stirling

I've had lots of opportunities to learn about different ways of teaching.

With two classes at each stage, you have a partner, which is great. We meet and talk every day.

I've also learnt a lot from the other P7 teacher, who takes the class when I'm out. She introduced me to Joyning the Learning, which is all about immersing the kids in a subject and making it cross-curricular. So in astronomy we've been out in the evenings observing the sky. It was full-on for four weeks, so you have to be flexible and it's demanding. But it's more enjoyable and motivating for kids and teachers.

There were lots of things I did not know about being in a school after the one-year postgrad - minor things like how to react to a squabble in the playground. I'm more confident now about what to do in different situations.

At first I'd have to think through what I was doing - like where to put groups, or who should sit where. My style was formal. But as the year went on, I let my personality come through and showed a sense of humour.

I don't have a job yet. But I don't really mind a year of supply. I'm hoping it will be a good learning experience.

ANONYMOUS, Secondary teacher Name and school withheld

I came into this year feeling very happy, having gained a distinction in my postgraduate course. But problems started right away. Two schools had just amalgamated, the roll had gone up to 1,500 and we didn't have enough space.

I was teaching in 10 different locations. We were given a table for our stuff and sometimes had to get to the other end of the school carrying big boxes. I ended up with back problems, so they gave me an old trolley.

After a couple of weeks, one of the wheels fell off when I was going to a class. I can laugh now, but it wasn't funny.

I was going to end up off sick. Things didn't improve until I went to the union. They reorganised our department. I was then in only four different locations a week. It was still tough, but it was manageable.

I did think about giving up at times. But I would have been so disappointed in myself. I had worked really hard to get there.

There has been a legacy. The authority advertised two English positions, one at this school. The other probationer and I applied, but didn't even get an interview. That was very unusual, we were told. It got worse. The authority had more vacancies, but instead of advertising again they interviewed those already on the shortlist.

Eight people were interviewed for seven jobs. That was very unfair to the rest of the 43 applicants, including us probationers.

I am still applying for jobs though. I still want to be a teacher.

Jane Johnston, Primary teacher Thornliebank Primary, East Renfrewshire

I was introduced to my classes and my mentor before the summer, which was great. Talking to colleagues, I've learnt how much and how little mentors can do for you. Having done the one-year postgrad, I had lots of wee practical things still to learn. My mentor was fantastic, and we sat down three times a week at first.

I've also learnt a lot from other teachers. Sharing a class with an experienced teacher has been good. Some authorities get cover for probationers when they're out of class. You learn a lot from watching other teachers, right down to the nursery classes.

Behaviour is probably the biggest challenge in schools these days. I was worried I might get a really big class and have to spin too many plates, but it's been fine. It's been a really good year. As a designer, I'm excited by how you can be creative in the classroom, adapt your lessons to different learning styles, and get the kids enthused.

I haven't got a permanent job yet. I don't mind doing supply for a year, but beyond that I might have to think about moving. I've lived overseas before. There are plenty of jobs abroad for teachers.

Emma Lawson, English teacher Largs Academy, North Ayrshire

I went straight from school to university, then to Jordanhill. I haven't got a permanent job yet, so I might have to do supply for a while.

I've felt very supported in this department. The biggest challenges were being young, getting the kids to see you as a teacher, and trying to figure out your own "teaching personality".

The first years were fine because they were also new. It was harder to break through with third and fourth years. Kids cotton on to the fact that a string of new teachers come for a year, then leave. So they test you.

It's hard not to try to be their friend. Most classes were fine, but one was quite difficult and I had to reaffirm myself and get stricter.

I've learnt that you have to be yourself. You need the strength of your convictions while letting kids have their say.

I have gained a lot of confidence this year. We've just got a new set of classes and I can see the difference already with the kids compared with last year, because I've gone in more assertively.

There's still only a few years between me and the older pupils. But in terms of life experience there's a huge difference.

I'm a teacher.

Lynsey Steele, Physical education Barrhead High, East Renfrewshire

There's a lot to learn when you start teaching, even when you've done the four-year BEd course, as I did. Schools have different discipline systems, so it takes time to learn what's expected and what the needs of individual pupils are.

You learn a lot from other teachers and their experience of trying things - it is sometimes different from yours and really makes you think. We have a strong PE department here and the staff have been very supportive.

You can also get insights from teachers in other subjects. One of the most useful was about sharing the criteria for marking, giving kids sample answers and letting them mark themselves or each other. Knowing what was expected made it a whole lot better.

A highlight of the year was being party leader on an adventure trip to France. The kids were kayaking, rock climbing, canoeing and abseiling. It was all about the four capacities and developing skills in a new environment.

I was organising, dealing with pupils, writing to parents, managing staff and leading meetings. It was a big responsibility and it went really well.

I haven't got a permanent job yet. So it's probably going to be supply teaching for me for a while. But it has been a fabulous year.

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