A steep learning curve

The Flexible Route can be a challenge, as James Hill discovered

English Teacher and Flexible Route probationer

Having qualified in 1974, and with 30 years EFL teaching, writing and publishing behind me, I decided a career change was long overdue. The first step was the Moray House Returning to Teaching Course.

Stimulating and fun, but nobody told me that never having done my probationary period, I was virtually unemployable. Six months on the supply register only produced four days work.

Then the phone call from Edinburgh's Trinity Academy the day before term in August 2006. At short notice they needed an English teacher.

Thinking this would be one or two days supply, I was slightly taken aback to discover on my first morning that I was a temporary teacher on a 0.6 timetable.

The post lasted till Christmas when a full-time position came up. Being on the Flexible Route I was eligible to apply: a 100% timetable and no McCrone support. It's now the last week of June and I have survived. But how?

Steep learning curve

The first thing to say is that it's been a very steep learning curve. I had 10 classes a week, all shared to a greater or lesser extent: four first years; two second years; one foundation third year; one fourth year; and two Intermediate twos. That was a lot of names to learn!

Then there was the formal assessment, day-to-day marking, reports and parents' evenings. Peer assessment may work in some subjects, but not in English. All about content and form, spelling, grammar and usage are areas no student can assess.

Learning to mark was one of my biggest concerns. By marking my pupils' work and undertaking sessions of comparative marking with a colleague I soon got the hang of it.

I also spent hours with the SQA guidelines at my side before realising I should be more broad-brush. Why didn't someone tell me that at Moray House?

How did I cope? You can guess the answer - fantastic colleagues! A rector who was always putting his head round the door and a PT who constantly made time for me.

Colleagues who shared their knowledge and experience, teaching me from the word go that it was perfectly normal to feel inadequate.

A clear school policy on discipline with professional back-up, unimaginable in the early 70s. The other answer was preparation (probably over-preparation) till 11 every night. Every lesson was new with nothing to fall back on.

CPD support

I would like to be able to write that I have had the support of some wonderful CPD courses. In this first year on a 100% timetable, the key has been survival. My support network has been my colleagues.

No CPD course could have done what they have done for me. But I AM all booked up for my first course in October. Survival first, development second!

There have been moments when I wondered why I didn't just stick to my safe career. But then I would have missed those wee first years who told me they wanted to be in my class in second year.

In the end, it was the students not the 5% who use up 95% of our emotional energy but the 95% who are hard-working, creative, enthusiastic, and funny, who got me through my first year!