Surviving as a probationer

Ellen Henretty talks about her probation year experience

Primary Teacher

I ticked the preference waiver box for my probationary year and ended up living and working in the Scottish Borders. Little did I know how enjoyable my year in the Borders was to be. This article will share some of my experiences from my first year within the teaching profession.

Although you can’t choose your placements it is important to utilise the opportunities on your final placement. I was fortunate to finish my BEd degree with an eleven week placement. This was a crucial placement as I got to understand long term planning and assessing. It was also good to realise that not every lesson can be amazing and that you have to prioritise to get through the week, a feeling that will become familiar on your probation year. I was fortunate throughout my degree that I had a mixture of rural, inner city and composite classes which gave me a good grounding and balance before my probationary year.

CPD opportunities

I was exposed to a lot of training and CPD opportunities during my NQT year and sometimes these training opportunities were not relevant for the class I had. However, as I have entered a new class and school this year I have brought with me a wealth of knowledge that is now applicable. I found that at the start of the year my CPD revolved around familiarising myself with planning, policies and procedures. Make sure you have grasped this at the start, as it makes your life easier for the rest of the year.

Ask for help

My supporter definitely lived up to his name! He encouraged me to ask questions and reminded me that it is good to ask for help. It is crucial that you are organised so that your profile doesn’t become overwhelming. I found it beneficial to send an agenda to my supporter so that we made good use of the limited time we had available. We typed our meetings straight into my profile on the computer to save time. I found observations completely different to a ‘crit’ at University. Once you build a relationship with your supporter they become to understand your teaching and personality and can offer you advice which is more effective than someone who watched you teach for 40mins. It is important to remember that they are not a test and are in place to improve your practise. Other ways I used the support available was by getting my supporter to read some of my reports before I did them all. This was to ensure that I was doing the right thing as I had never done them before.

Be organised

Every class and stage is different but ensuring your classroom is well organised is something that I found crucial. As two other teachers covered my preparation and NQT time it had to be well laid out so that three staff and all pupils could work well together. For upper primary stages I found that ensuring that I had appropriate finishing and extension activities was really important. These were especially useful in the initial stages of the year so I could gauge the stage of each learner.

Behaviour management

I never understood the phrase, “Don’t smile until Christmas” until my NQT year. My most important bit of advice is to familiarise yourself with the school behaviour management policy before getting started. That fills children with confidence as they know you know what’s going on and mean business! I would also recommend that you create a class charter where the teacher has a role as well. This allows children to know that you are working as a team from the beginning. Different strategies work for different children and classes but I found that house points were a great reward for the children I was teaching. As they were house captains and prefects they had a sense of pride so really worked hard to gain points to win the end of year shield. Ensure that you are consistent and use a warning system that the school and class agree with. Don’t be scared or reluctant to send a child to the management team. I found that sometimes the chance to talk through their feelings with another member of staff revealed a lot from a child.

Take a chance

Technology is not going to go away so it is worth investing the time and doing something about it. Not only will it make you a valuable resource to your school but the children absolutely love it. During a Literacy topic where we studied an animated cartoon the children then made their own stop-motion animations. If there is an ICT co-ordinator within the school try to have a discussion with them to see what resources are available. I had great fun and now have a bank of resources from using the Teach-IT toolkit.

It is normal to want to hide under your duvet, to be up until midnight preparing lessons and to feel like you are never going to reach the top. Remember to ask for help and use the support that is available because the feeling you get when watching your class skip out for summer makes all the challenges most definitely worth it. I look back on my probationary year with great fondness and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody at Trinity Primary School for their support during my probationary year, you’ll never know how much I appreciate it.