Climb every mountain

Stephen Ogston embarks on the ascent of his teaching career with a sense of determination as well as a hint of trepidation.

English Teacher, Turriff Academy, Aberdeenshire

The principal teacher in the English department of Turriff Academy is a keen hillwalker and has periodically told me about its finer points: the appeals of conquering an obstacle; the feeling of escape from the everyday routine (especially third years); the feeling of exhilaration at being able to see the landscape for miles around; the exercise and the peace and quiet.

All of these things have sounded pretty appealing, despite the fact that I have yet to find the time or inspiration to experience them first hand.

The point about hillwalking that has stuck with me most, however, is that often when you reach one plateau on a hill, there is yet another to be seen right ahead. This has been my experience of the teaching profession.

New situations

Upon embarking on a career in teaching there are many, many unique characteristics to face. In fact, each teacher - primary or secondary - has to deal with situations every day that they probably did not face the previous day and probably will not face the next day.

There are so many factors involved in the quest to become a "super teacher" that it soon becomes apparent the real goal is just to become a "real" teacher.

Everything changes

As a student teacher, the parameters and targets were clearly defined for me: pass. As a probationer, they became somewhat broader: achieve the Standards for Full Registration then get a job.

Now, as a fully registered teacher at the beginning of my career, I find that my targets and development are broadening still further. They are starting to concern my classroom practice in a way which I had only hoped for as a student and probationer. In other words, a year and a half after qualifying, I actually feel that I'm now starting to really use the support and advice offered by college tutors and through the Teacher Induction Scheme. Lifelong learning has begun in earnest.

Precious 0.3

Looking back on all that the induction year brought, I feel that it was a successful and enjoyable one. The support offered to me - both at school and authority level - was more than sufficient. The probation year provided a time to be lowered gently into the profession. Indeed, it is only with the benefit of hindsight - and a full timetable - that I now realise just how precious 0.3 of a working week can be.
The time allocated for development and the building up of a portfolio now seems to me like gold-dust and a distant memory. Used wisely, this time is not merely a break from the challenge of establishing yourself as a class teacher but is an opportunity to get ahead of the game and put in some firm foundations.

Embrace your mistakes

To make the most of the induction year, there are two precepts I clung to:

  • when at a loss, ask
  • whenever you make a mistake in front of a class, don't pretend that you haven't

There is nothing worse than wrestling with a problem in class that could be solved with the benefit and wisdom of experiences. So, why not borrow someone else's?
Books and the internet are a good source of information, but colleagues are better, as long as you don't go to the same one all the time! Allied to this, standing in front of classes on a day-by-day basis is a sure-fire recipe for the unexpected. While at first I would subject myself to horrendous moments of self-doubt when corrected by pupils, I soon learned that mistakes are not necessarily an indicator of incompetence; they are just a natural part of the while learning process.

I also gained a thicker skin and learned that there is much scope for humour on our imperfections.

Not just an uphill struggle

Did I mention hillwalking at some point? Here are some ways in which I would compare my not-yet-established new hobby to the first few years in teaching:

  • both can feel like an uphill struggle
  • a high point can lead you to a great sense of well-being, while bringing the next peak into view
  • sometimes the scenery is beautiful and panoramic , but sometimes you can only see for a few yards in front of you

Much as a stifled sense of adventure is quietly calling me to get out and explore our country, so a quiet sense of adventure led me into this profession. Only I seem to find it easier to make the drive to school than to put on my walking boots.