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Surviving your probation year

Elizabeth Platfoot offers some survival tips from deep within the jungle that is the modern classroom.

Primary Teacher, Balgreen Primary School, Edinburgh

It's a wonderful feeling when you reach the halfway stage in your probation year. I've now been teaching for nearly six months, I've still got a lot more to learn but I know that I'm well on my way to making it up that teaching mountain.

At this point I feel a great sense of achievement as I've experienced most of my "firsts".

Climb every mountain!

I'll never forget that first in-service day when my university ego was quashed as I suddenly realised how much I didn't know, including how to organise the mountain of paper handed to me that morning.

Be prepared

My first teaching day was a flurry of nerves, excitement and anxious mental questions:

  • Will they like me?
  • What time is break?
  • Will I get lost?
  • How will I remember all their names?

Forget about the children,  I was terrified! However, it all went well, the children were kept busy and they actually wanted to come back the next day!

Slowly, as the weeks passed, I began to realise that this intriguing, new initiative called A Curriculum for Excellence was actually beginning to work for me. I was becoming a successful learner with an enthusiasm and motivation for learning my craft.

I was also developing into a responsible citizen with a deep respect for those wonderful people who provided me with daily advice in the staffroom. The forward planning that, at first, took me hours became a simpler task and things began to get easier.

Then came my first assembly, which was an exhausting but hugely rewarding experience, particularly as I decided that my class would perform a play written by yours truly.

Although this earned me extra brownie points, I'd suggest looking in the teacher's resource room when it's your class's turn. You'll get more sleep that way!

Meet the parents

My first parents evening was looming. I was well prepared for this. I created an information sheet on each child. This was an effective communication tool and a fantastic support for any awkward pauses.

Parents evening is never as scary as you expect. It's actually rather fun particularly when you're told that the work you're doing is pretty good.

However, you might just have a challenging parent or two and I had my fair share. Miraculously, you do survive the wrath of that dreaded parent, and then you realise that you've developed the resilience to be an effective contributor, third capacity of the new curriculum achieved, well done!

Make your classroom a haven of tranquillity, a scented candle and vase of flowers really do make a happy parent.

Be one of the team

Suddenly, I arrived in Winter Wonderland, my school was transformed and I was swept into the arms of Christmas.

As an eager probationer I enthusiastically grasped the opportunities to start a dance club and choreograph the P3 and P7 productions, along with making sure my Primary 5s performed their Christmas concert with the confidence of professionals.

Embrace these opportunities, it really is great to be in a place "where everybody knows your name" and this happens when you get involved.

On reflection

So now, after those observations, it's a good time to reflect. I'd say the single most important thing to focus upon is the building of relationships. You need effective relationships with your pupils, colleagues, supporter and parents.

Make an effort with everyone. It enables you to become a confident, ambitious individual, tick off your fourth capacity!

Probation year is a year of "firsts". Despite all the advice you"ll hear from courses and colleagues, you'll learn the most from your own experiences. There are hard times, happy times, scary times and easy times.

When you're juggling children, parents, displays, learning assistants, productions and assessments, just always remember, you're doing the job of your dreams.

Final advice

How to get through your probation year and remain a normal human being, although some might question your normality as you've chosen to be a teacher!

  • Spend time with friends, they'll make you laugh
  • Understand that your life is not just about formative assessment, teachers can have lives out of school
  • Relax and rest, music or the pub are proven effective remedies!
  • Vvitamins will stop you dropping down with the assorted winter ailments
  • Instant coffee does the trick on a Monday morning
  • Vegetable soup will keep your immune system strong and warm you up when the school heating system's on the blink!
  • Accept you don't know it all and you're not meant to
  • Long lies on a Saturday morning, sleep's the best cure for everything!