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Settling in

It took Steve McColl three months to start enjoying his new teaching career.

Technological Education Teacher, Craigmount High School, Edinburgh

I was a little nervous. Nothing major, just that slight unsettled feeling in my stomach, the same as when I put to sea after a long time ashore and thought it would be a breeze.

My placements and academic work had all gone really well and I'd come away from university with a first. What could be so difficult about teaching less than 16 hours a week and getting paid for it?

What could be so difficult?

On 14 August, I walked into my probationer post at an Edinburgh City secondary school, and on 16 August I walked out of the school in a state of shock.

I'd had an excellent induction course and two in-service days, but my first day's real teaching “ and it wasn't even a full day, just two periods “ had left me feeling completely deflated.

Rude awakening

Smiling confidently, I greeted my new S4 at the door, waited for them to sit, then asked for quiet whilst I took the register. A couple of the nice kids turned and faced me, the others didn't even skip a beat.

"Quiet whilst I take the register, thanks," then a little louder and more assertively, standing with arms folded. It went on for a full 15 minutes until I managed to work out who was here and who was not, agony.

Four months on from that August nausea and I can say with honesty that I'm enjoying my job. 

The S3 pupils were worse, last period of the day, hyper from PE and a new teacher to bait. I tried a different tack; "I'd like you to think of your favourite sandwich, whilst I take the register."

I worked my way down the list, recording the pupils' names and favourite fillings on my seating plan.

Quite noisy, but a nice little ice-breaker I thought, until I got to Brendan, "Favourite sandwich, Brendan?" He could hardly contain himself; he blurted out with a huge sneer, "S#*t", as his classmates howled. Um, maybe I'll reserve that one for the lower school.

Four months on from that August nausea and I can say with honesty that I'm enjoying my job. Obviously the whole five-day-a-week thing is a shock to the system when you've been a student for four years, but I actually had fun today, and yesterday, and the day before that, and the one before that.

Finding my feet

So, why am I enjoying it? I don't have a definitive answer. I think it's a combination of so many things.

I try to be super-organised; I have a shelf full of subdivided ring binders containing class records, support materials from the department or ones that I have made up and very brief notes for lesson plans.

I've had superb support from my supporter through our weekly meetings and at any other times when I've needed the answer to a question or just some reassurance.

I try to talk to other teachers and probationers about specific pupils,  it's so good to realise that you are not the only one having difficulties.

I get up to the staff room as often as I can as it's necessary to have a break and chat about something other than education, even if it is just the most effective way to defrost a fridge.

I've got involved with extra-curricular activities to get to know pupils and for them to get to know me in a different setting.

Time flies

It seems like another decade that I was standing in line, wearing a friend's suit and a hired fur-trimmed hooded gown, waiting to be doffed with John Knox's breeches, smiling with the realisation that I was about to graduate and would soon be on probation.

Actually, I think I do have a definitive answer: teaching is all about building good relationships, which is maybe why it's taken me three months to start enjoying my new career.