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My first day of term

Heather Anderson was dreading her first day of term. Here she describes how she made it through.

English Teacher, Lornshill Academy, Clackmannanshire

First day of term saw me gazing disbelievingly at the front door of the school. With my new school shoes and pencil case, my knocking knees and wide-eyed terror.

I could be easily mistaken for an S1 pupil, except that I was twenty-four years old and a recently qualified teacher.

There are few things more intimidating than the thought that you have the ultimate responsibility for educating over one hundred secondary pupils but nonetheless I opened the door and walked in. Since that moment I've never looked back.

Building relationships

The best thing about being a probationer teacher is that for the first time you really feel like a part of the school. When you are a student you tend to be someone who comes, has major crit-related panic moments and then leaves again.

Getting involved allows you to build relationships with others who invariably have some useful advice or, at worst, some entertaining tales about teaching. The whole school is your oyster:

  • working with your department
  • school shows
  • committees
  • groups and teams desperate for new blood and talent

It's this type of team atmosphere that helps tremendously in those "What am I doing? Am I insane?" moments that we all inevitably go through.

Managing your surroundings

When my somewhat "challenging" S4 class gave new meaning to the phrase "behaviour management", it was the support and advice from my department (they sat me down in a circle and gave me a sort of group therapy) and also everyone from the rector to the cleaners that helped me through.

On the whole though, a "classroom" is much easier to "manage" when you are the class's actual teacher and they have to put up with you "being crabbit" everyday (only if they are breaking the rules, mind).

As a student you are in and out again. The pupils are aware of that and, in many cases, behave accordingly.

There is a lot to be said for continuity and when you build a relationship with teenagers my experience has been that although you will rarely have "perfect" behaviour (unless you resort to mind-control techniques) you will build up realistic aims and a positive classroom ethos.

Stay positive

Yes, some days you leave the school feeling like a washed out rag. Yes, when you have sixty essays to mark and a meeting to attend things can be a bit stressful and most of all yes.

You will teach a class with chalk dust on your bum or your skirt tucked in your knickers and be the talk of the playground for the day. But these things will be outweighed by the positive aspects of teaching.

You can't beat the feeling you get when a kid in your class hands in a piece of work that is fantastic, or when you see someone try really hard, or best of all on those rare occasions when you could hear a pin drop in the classroom because everyone is fascinated and listening intently.

Get stuck in!

Join everything that you can (within reason) and get involved in school activities even just helping out. You don't have to go the full Shirley Bassey at the Christmas show, even selling tickets or programmes will mean meeting lots of new people and showing your pupils that you are interested in their events.

Make the most of your support

Your mentor or supporter will be your therapist, surrogate parent and shoulder to cry on. If a miracle or a disaster has occurred in the course of your day (and it will most days in teaching) they are the ones that you can turn to. You won't look weak asking for advice, you'll give yourself a heart attack struggling on alone.

Last of all, I suggest you buy lots of cakes for your department during the course of the year, as this will ensure that you get a good report!