Making the most of your supporter

Karen Lawrie, a probationer supporter, explains how to your supporter can act as the springboard to your career.

English Teacher and Probationer Supporter

Teaching has changed a great deal since I qualified in the 1980s, not least in the approach to probation.

Key to that new approach is the requirement on schools to provide a dedicated supporter, or mentor, for each probationer, a role that I currently occupy.

I support the newest member of a large, successful and sometimes bewilderingly busy English department.

While it is undeniable that more demands are placed on you in terms of record-keeping, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and so on, far more support is also given by schools to help you make the most of that all-important first year. 

That's where the supporter comes in.

Formal and informal support

Supporters provide mandatory formal support through regular meetings, in addition to agreed observations. I'd suggest that both you and your supporter make brief, but clear, records of progress and necessary next steps as you go along.

On the thorny issue of record keeping, I suggest that a few minutes are left at the end of each meeting in order to complete this sometimes onerous, but essential, task. Little and often is a good rule here.

No one wants to finish up with screeds of illegible notes to transfer into one's best handwriting for inclusion in that portfolio  -  think bullet points!

Supporters can also provide the equally essential informal support: a shoulder to cry on is very helpful in a demanding job like teaching. A quick word is sometimes all that is needed to reassure or console.

A helping hand

Another useful role that supporters can play is to help you deliver on your CPD priorities, as well as to act as a link to the designated Senior Management Team (SMT) member in overall chare of probationers.

The supporter can also liaise with members of their own, and other, departments to arrange observation, shadowing of pupils, co-operative teaching and so on.

Arguably though, the most important part of a supporter's job is to know when to let go. A probationer will usually require a great deal of support initially, but must strive to become independent well before their first teaching year is over.

The enhanced non-contact time is a fantastic advantage that you will never have again - use it to the full!

Enhance your experience

Planning, preparation, and marking, especially in a subject like English, can all too easily dominate a teacher's time, but there is so much more to being a teacher today.

You could investigate your school's learning and support systems, find out about personal action plans, read up on areas of the curriculum that you haven't yet experienced.

Remember, the portfolio must contain details of how the enhanced time was used.

Finally, I believe the main function of a supporter should be to encourage the probationer to develop his or her own teaching style.

Supporters must gradually retreat into the background as the new teacher gains in confidence and experience, yet should always be ready with advice at any stage.