Will parents see us as under par?

7th February 2003 at 00:00
At the end of a long, cold month our probationer wonders about support structures for newcomers and how they are viewed by parents

January has been a long, long, month, or is this simply because the wait for pay day has felt so agonisingly prolonged? Again I seem to be taking two steps forward but three steps back, and with national testing looming, I'm wondering how much more "information" I can disseminate before my brain hits meltdown.

Every term means new topics to get to grips with, new expressive arts programmes to feel inadequate in and sometimes I wish I could freeze time so that I could feel comfortable with the curriculum alone - no more theory, practitioner reflection or shadowing. Just plain, simple teaching.

Of course there is no such thing as plain old simple teaching and, for most, the support we do receive with the probationer programme makes criticism seem unjust. Any attempt to voice even the merest complaint brings: "But you're so lucky to be given time out of class" or "It's so good to have time to reflect on your work".

I now limit any moans to contact with other probationers. But for those who do have genuine complaints about the level of support they are given, are there proper systems in place in which to raise this without fear of reprisal? I read an article in The TES where someone advocated the amalgamation of the probationary year with degree courses and the postgraduate certificate of education. Probationers would be assigned a tutor, as they would be during placements, but still have an appointed school supporter.

It was an intriguing proposal, not least because probationers would have someone to turn to who was not connected to the school or education authority. It would also increase the responsibility of universities for the teachers they produce. But schools could also benefit, particularly if unsure about how the probationer year should operate.

It would surely be an advantage to universities to follow "students" in their first teaching year and witness the types of things that create the most challenges.

On another issue, a fellow probationer at a recent course was asking how many of us were in schools that had told parents their children were being taught by a probationer. He had been on a school trip and a parent had enquired what stage he would have next year and if he was staying on. He wasn't quite sure if he should tell the truth, so he mumbled that it was too early to say. When relating this to his supporter, the reply was: "Best not to mention if it's not an official inquiry."

I suppose schools are in a dilemma as to what to tell parents in case some think their children are receiving sub-standard teaching. But what constitutes an official inquiry, and is it up to the probationer to say when questioned? This also raises the issue of the profile of the probationer year and should there be a public dissemination of information via schools?

Even some teachers seem misinformed about the work involved in the probationer year, so for some parents the natural assumption must be to think that their children are losing out.

I think my school has the right approach. At the start of term a letter went out to parents explaining the objectives of the probationary year, why their children had two teachers, and if parents had any concerns they could meet with both headteacher and probationer to discuss them.

No parent came forward and to my knowledge there have been no complaints.

But this may be a judgment call for heads - they know the parents best and a blanket-type approach to the issue may not apply.

Finally, probationers cannot, it turns out, apply for teaching posts until receipt of the satisfactory stamp in June. I cannot see the logic to this, with continual assessment going on, but I have to abide by it. This in turn raises the issue of jobs and whether there are any. But that is a different article altogether.

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