Tough love

17th August 2007 at 01:00
Just starting teacher training? Worried about what it will be like? Douglas Blane talked to a range of students, just out of university, about how they found it and how they are feeling at the start of their probationary year.

Illustration by

Clare Nicholas

Emma Louise Fazzi

BEd, University of Strathclyde

Probationer at Comely Park Primary, Falkirk

My graduation was quite a week for me. I got married on the Saturday, then graduated on the Thursday. I was exhausted, but I enjoyed it.

I always knew I wanted to work with people, but at first I went down the medical route. I did a couple of years' physiotherapy before I realised it wasn't me. Then I travelled and had various jobs such as working in a bar.

It came to me suddenly one day over dinner. My mum was talking about something unrelated and I just knew, all of a sudden, I wanted to be a teacher. It was like a lightning bolt. I applied right away. I wish I had applied sooner. But that extra bit of life experience stood me in good stead. It's a demanding course and the ones who dropped out were usually younger.

The course takes over your life for four years. But it really makes you think. There's no right or wrong way of doing things in teaching, and it has given me the confidence to question and analyse everything. I've been to a few conferences and have even spoken at one in Barcelona.

I'm going to be teaching Pri- mary 2 this year, which I'm looking forward to. This is an exciting time for me.

Michelle Watson

BEd, University of Aberdeen Probationer at Pulteneytown Academy Primary, Highland

I decided to go into teaching when I was in Primary 7. My teacher was so good I wanted to be her. She made everything fun. I remember we did a Europe topic, and she gave us all a country and we had to make their food, dress up in their clothes and speak their language.

I delivered that lesson myself on fourth-year placement. We were making French onion soup and talking German. The kids loved it. Imagination is a big part of teaching.

When you see the kids engaged, you know you're making a difference and, with lessons like that, the children don't realise how much they are learning.

I struggled with maths at school, so I don't want my kids to. I made a big effort to make maths interesting for them. I remember being up till 1am making little bugs on leaves for the infants.

It's a lovely community at Aberdeen University. By fourth year you're coming into the lecture halls and everybody knows you. It's really nice. Fourth year is when everything you've been learning seems to click into place, and the three-month placement really lets you see the progression of the children.

I love teaching every stage.

Linzi Robertson

BEd, University of Aberdeen

Probationer at Middleton Park Primary, Bridge of Don

One of the scariest experiences of my life was going into a new school on first-year placement. You didn't know anybody there. You didn't know what to do or who to talk to. But you had to stand up and teach a classful of kids. What got me through was the support of the university and the schools and especially my friends. At night we'd be phoning each other up and going, "What are you doing about this?" and "Can you help me with that?" Your classmates are a huge support because you're all going through the same thing.

By fourth year it's different. You know what you are doing. You know who to ask and what to ask about. You're four years older, which makes a difference too. I went straight from school, so I was only 18 at the start.

My last placement in fourth year was really satisfying. The children were saying: "We don't want you to leave. You're our teacher". I felt I really had been able to teach, everything had fallen into place, and nobody didn't know what they were doing. It was a brilliant feeling. Everything I had learned in my four years seemed to fall into place all at once and become almost like second nature.

I'm not sure how long that feeling will last as I've got nursery for my probation year. That is going to be another challenge.

Hazel McCarthy

PGDE primary, University of Strathclyde

Probationer at Neilston Primary, East Renfrewshire

I wanted to be a teacher when I was 16, so I did work experience at the local primary school. It all went fine until one of the kids was sick in class. Everything else I really enjoyed, but at that age I just went, "This isn't for me".

So I got a degree in business studies and had eight years in shipping management. Then I had a child. That changes your perspective about kids being sick, so I started thinking again about teaching, and I decided to give up my job and go for it.

Since I had a child, I thought the infants would be easy to handle. But I found the change of pace from Primary 6, which I'd got used to, a real challenge. At the earlier stages, they get so enthusiastic because they've still got the imagination the older ones can be more reluctant to use. But there's also a lot of: "He's got my rubber", "She stole my pencil" and "We're ot friends any more". By the end of it, though, with the help of my tutor, I found a way through to them.

The whole year has been a fantastic experience. You get such a lot flung at you at first. But it all comes right in the end.

I have been given my first- choice placement. I'm not worried. I'm expecting it to be a bit like driving once you pass the test, you really start learning.

Alison Downey

PGDE English, University of Strathclyde

Probationer at Eastwood High, East Renfrewshire

The postgraduate year was my first experience of student life. I had 20 years before that working in a bank, and I got my degree through the Open University.

I didn't know what to expect. It has been the quickest year of my life. It has been great, though, and I regret not doing it earlier.

I had always liked the idea of being a teacher, but didn't think I had the right personality. I was quite shy when I was younger. A couple of years ago, I decided to leave the bank, give teaching a try, and see if I could do it.

One of the most enjoyable parts was the two-week induction block. I had taken a bit of a risk giving up my job, and I was worried I might feel totally alien in a school.

I was delighted to discover I felt really at home. It was still terrifying the first time I was in front of a class. But it was good too.

I like being well prepared and having a proper lesson plan. Having to do so many things at once, plan for so many different classes, has taught me organisation and making good use of time.

I have been told that I smile too much in class, so maybe I need to work at being more stern. I am feeling a little apprehensive now, but very positive about being a teacher.

Linda Park

PGDE modern studies, University of Strathclyde

Clyde Valley High, Wishaw, North Lanarkshire

I remember one day writing the date on the board and suddenly going: "It's the first of March already. Wow! I can do this." The kids must have thought I had completely lost it.

Until then it had felt quite precarious. I'd always said if I could keep going until Christmas I'd be fine. But Christmas had come and gone and I hadn't really noticed. Then all of a sudden it's March and you're nearly there.

This year has been one of the hardest I've done, in terms of juggling the work, the studying and my own family. I really enjoyed the teaching practice, particularly working across departments. I would like to do more of that. Another high point was when I got merit in my first assignment and realised I could handle the academic side.

Low points were trying to deal with the cynical folk in staffrooms. It's hard to keep smiling and be sympathetic to people who want to tell you they've been teaching for 30 years and it's a terrible job.

I'm going to North Lanarkshire, my first choice, for my probationer year. I want to learn more in particular about co-operative learning, which is a big thing there. They came out to the university and gave us a taster. I'm really looking forward to it.

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