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A year in the life of a probationer

Alison Hughes on her year as a probationer teacher.

Geography Teacher, Wester Hailes Education Centre, Edinburgh

"Summer time and the livin' is easy - or at least it used to be!

School starts back on 1 September, doesn't it? (I grew up in Northern Ireland). Apparently not in Scotland; term resumes in the height of Summer. In fact as a probationer it's even earlier, 9 August. Yes 9 August! It was a foreboding thought.

The probation routine

Probation CPD was a chance to meet other probationers and to get some hints and tips from last year's cohort.

It gave an insight into what life is like for a pupil, timetabled lectures, registration, queuing for lunch and tactically choosing your seat.

My placement was to be Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC). It's amazing how many people purport to know so much about the place.

I was to learn a lot from the prejudices of Edinburghers about life in the "ghetto" as some referred to WHEC. In this case, outsiders' views were most definitely incorrect! I found myself quickly settling into routine and enjoying the challenge of my new career.

Behaviour management

Classroom and behaviour management, a favourite topic of conversation among teachers, featured substantially during the first couple of months in CPD courses, school/supporter meetings and general chit-chat.

"Remember that you know your boundaries and what you term acceptable behaviour. Your pupils don't. Yet."

A wise man shared this sage advice. This gave me the freedom to stop pressurising myself into creating a meticulously organised and well behaved class in the first three weeks. The trick is to stick with your rules, re-enforce, and follow through with what you say and demand.

The run up to Christmas was full of tests, reports, marking, Christmas shows, classroom displays, meetings, etc, etc. Diaries were packed and time passed in a blur. It was a rewarding term as relationships with staff and pupils developed. And so the holidays arrived.

Second term

Coming back for a second term was no longer the new experience. January had potential to be a month of long dark evenings. There was so much to do - new courses to plan, extra curricular activities, and only five weeks in school till the half term holidays.

Job hunting

"What will you be doing next year?" is a question that probationers are likely to hear constantly. Come March, life changes gear, the topic of conversation shifting to next year's job prospects.

You begin a serious relationship with application forms, progressing to a short affair with interviewers (best to try not to prolong this).

My advice: plan well in advance, arrange mock interviews, seek advice from those you know have been through this recently. Securing a job is not easy, but take heart that every single probationer has to go through this process.

The end in sight

Summer term isn't just about application forms. There are external exams, S1 residential, field trips, new timetables, staff events, a mad dash to finish courses, P7 visits and a host of other activities going on in and around the school.

For me, it means the end of an era. My probation year has been a great experience. I don't think I would change any of it, not even the difficult days when I contemplated the idea that some pupils might never follow the classroom code!

Earning pupil trust by being consistent and fair is fundamental. Perseverance with behaviour management strategies is an investment that has paid off.

Having reached this point, it's worth noting that earning pupil trust by being consistent and fair is fundamental. This can provide the foundation to build positive relationships with pupils, an asset most teachers find essential in order to reap the real benefits of life in this profession.

I've had a fantastic department to work in, the support for new teachers is excellent and generally, everyone is very positive here.

So I leave WHEC with a heavy heart, taking many happy memories with me. To those of you fortunate to have a student placement, probation year or permanent job here, you're very blessed.