'When they "get it", it's hard to describe how rewarding it is'

21st August 2009 at 01:00
In August 2008, Douglas Blane spoke to new probationers about their hopes and fears of teaching. A year later, he has gone back to discover how they got on. One has given up, but the others talked about what the induction year was like, what advice they have for new probationers and what the future holds


2008: "I don't have worries about the teaching. The paperwork is a worry but I'm sure it'll get easier. I love standing in front of a class. I love teaching kids."

I had a fantastic year. It couldn't have gone better. At the start, I was overwhelmed by the paperwork. At university, I used to leave it and it would pile up. You can't do that when you're teaching. The headteacher, who was also my supporter, sat down with me early on and went through all the processes and the planning at the school.

She and all the staff were very approachable, which made a huge difference to me. I've heard of probationers not getting support in some schools. I got lots - and I got on top of the paperwork. It soon gets on top of you if you don't.

A high point for me was parents' night. They were all telling me how much their kids enjoyed coming to school. I had a good relationship with the pupils and a lot of time for them. They have so much to tell you - what they're thinking, how they feel, their likes and dislikes, what they do at the weekend.

They're six hours a day with you, so you're a big part of their life. You have to take time with them, to learn about them and their family circumstances. Bad behaviour in class is often about what's happening at home. You need to be careful, though, because it's important to be consistent with all the kids. It's about finding the right balance and I think that comes with experience.

The probationer system is great, with all the mentoring and support you get and the 0.3 for planning. It really helps you develop as a teacher. It must have been much harder under the old system.

My only worry now is whether I get a permanent job. I've been surprised by how many have been advertised in Ayrshire. But I haven't got one yet.


2008: "I came to Scotland to become a teacher because of its reputation in education and because it's so progressive. I signed the preference waiver and was delighted when I got a school in the Highlands."

The plan was that my partner would come over from Ireland, when I'd finished the probationer year, and we'd both get jobs in Scotland. But the economy has gone down the tubes since then.

He has got a job in Dublin, so I'll be joining him there and doing some teaching if I can. I'm not qualified to teach in Irish though, so it'll be more difficult. I would love to come back to Scotland but it depends how things go for us.

I had a composite P1-3 class with nine P1s, eight of them boys. That was demanding. They needed lots of your time all the time. When they "get it", it's hard to describe how rewarding it is - when a child first starts to read or write. It's your job obviously, but it's also wonderful.

We were doing the Highland Literacy project, getting them to work in pairs and trios. That's very effective. There's so much to learn that I'd like to have the year over again to consolidate my learning. I would know exactly what to do from the start.

It's vital to keep your GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) profile up to date. But the internet got so slow sometimes, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, that you couldn't use it for weeks on end. That was frustrating.

I worked in industry for 10 years, and friends now say it must be easier to be a teacher with all those holidays. Well it's not. You could spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the classroom and still not get everything done that you want to. You have to take time to enjoy the kids. You have to take time to enjoy your holidays.

I'd advise anyone new to teaching to make the most of their holidays. You need them.


2008: "I was in careers guidance for 11 years before training to be a teacher. I don't have major worries. It's nice to be cooking, working with young people and teaching them valuable life skills."

As a home economics teacher, you're in a unique position. There are jobs. There was one advertised recently in Ayrshire which got no applicants. If I didn't get a permanent post, I knew there would be supply work. But I did. Two in fact - 0.4 at Belmont Academy and 0.5 at Queen Margaret Academy, both in Ayr.

Some other authorities are cutting home economics teachers to save money. That's a pity because it's a subject that provides young people with useful skills. You can also do all sorts of interesting cross-curricular projects - with PE for healthy living, with science for energy, with social subjects. You can give the kids the basic rations from the war and investigate what they can make with them. They love all that. Health is important in Curriculum for Excellence, and home economics is important for health.

We did lots of practical cookery at Kilmarnock Academy and the kids had great enthusiasm for it. I bumped into a couple of girls at the dentist one day and their first words were: "Miss, what are we cooking this week?"

Because we charged 50p a time, we could bring more variety into the cooking and use better produce. The kids got the lesson and a nice dish to take home. They have to bring food in at some schools, but if they don't, they're not allowed to cook. That's not a good system.

I learned a valuable lesson from an incident in which a girl started screaming at me: stay calm at all times. We had an assertive discipline system, a clear set of sanctions and good back-up from management. It helped too that we were not a huge school, so senior management were never far away.

Not once in the past year did I think I had done the wrong thing going into teaching. After the incident with the girl, somebody said, `I bet you never had anything like that in your last job'. I told her that's what was wrong with it. There was no challenge, no stimulation. You could never say that about teaching.


2008: "I loved my student placements. The last one was challenging, but being challenged made me a better teacher. You had to keep doing innovative things they hadn't seen before."

The hardest part is switching off. There are so many things to try and think about. I've yet to meet a teacher who's entirely happy with what they're doing. They always want to do something better, whether they're probationers or rectors. You need to be aware of so many things, to understand all the kids and yourself. You need to be many different people.

I enjoy making up lessons and developing ideas. But it means that no matter where you are, you're always a teacher. You can be walking past a shop window on Saturday and it sparks an idea in your mind, and you're off again.

It took me a while to realise that no matter how many hours you do, there'll always be something you haven't done. I talked to an experienced teacher about not sleeping because of ideas going round your head. He said you have to force yourself to stop at a certain time - say 10.30 in the evening.

It was a great year, with fantastic support from my colleagues. Having good people around you makes a huge difference. The department was keen on getting feedback from the kids, and it was good to hear them saying they enjoyed history and all the activities I put on for them. That was very heartening.

The job situation is very dis- heartening. Out of all the probationers I know, only one has secured a full-time post. Some authorities have advertised no teaching jobs at all, which can't be right. The probationer system is great, but if authorities are using probationers instead of permanent teachers, just because they're cheaper, that is not good for anybody.

I would go anywhere in Scotland for a full-time permanent post. But I haven't got one yet.


2008: "I'm looking forward to the children, to the active learning, to treating them as individuals, to taking them from where they are to where they'll be in a year."

I don't think I've worked as hard in my life, but I've had a great time. I had a composite P21 class and it was all about active learning and A Curriculum for Excellence, which the whole school has been making good progress with. I did a different topic every term - Fairyland, Storyline, Flat Stanley - prepared the resources, pulled in all the subjects.

It was busy, but brilliant. The kids were enthused and engaged, which makes such a difference. We asked them what they wanted to learn right from the start, which is something the school is keen on doing. It's about personalisation and choice.

Flat Stanley was a huge hit with them. There are so many adventures you can send him on. We sent him to schools in Australia and Korea and it really caught their imagination. We started with Scotland, but they wanted to do the whole world.

I found the composite infant class really difficult at first. So I talked to colleagues, went to another school with a similar class, looked again at Anne Neil's literacy resources. In the end I set up a system, using paired reading and language games, that took the pressure off. It made them independent, so I could then work with groups without being interrupted.

The job situation is difficult. I have a family, so moving away isn't an option - 150 teachers applied for a dozen permanent posts this year in Dumfries and Galloway. I didn't get one. I did get a temporary post for a year, though. I'm based at one school but don't have my own class. I'm delighted I've got a job but sorry I'll have to go through the whole process again in a year. But it's all good experience - I keep telling myself.




Help! Is anyone else worried? p31.

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