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Trains, ferries, buses and cars: tales from the Sound of Shuna

Christina Smith explains how, despite her epic daily commute, she became a better and stronger teacher by the end of her probation.

Geography Teacher, Dunoon Grammar School, Argyll and Bute

From the title of this piece you might think that I am talking about a complicated journey to a far flung place that could be made into an exciting film but only the first part of that statement is true.

Appearances can be deceiving

My daily journey as a probationer could definitely be described as complicated - and lengthy - but I was only travelling about ten miles from my home as the crow flies. The village I stay in is Cardross and I was allocated Dunoon Grammar School in Cowal, which can nearly be seen from the local beach on a good day. However, it took some time for me to fully appreciate the logistics of this allocation.

I received letters from the GTCS and Argyll and Bute Council on the same day and in a matter of moments I had the atlas out and Google Earth up and running, frantically trying to find out exactly where Dunoon was and how I could possibly travel there on a daily basis.

It didn't take long for me to realise that I couldn't just jump in the car or onto a train and have a straightforward journey to work each day. My daily commute was going to be no less than three hours each day and with a son going into primary two you will appreciate how concerned I was.

Doing the maths

I had been made fully aware of how much work would be involved in order to become a fully registered teacher and started planning how I could balance my home and work lives successfully over the course of the academic year.

I initially tried to have my school changed due to the travelling time but was told that this was not possible.

I was even told at one point that the school year is only 39 weeks long and it would go by in a flash. It might have been pertinent for me to point out that "only 39 weeks" constituted 585 hours or 24 days of travelling!

Making the journey

Anyway, once I got my head around the fact that I would have a long journey each day I started to think about the best way to do it. I had three choices:

  • car (nearly one and half hours continuous driving on country roads)
  • train (a very early start of 6.18am)
  • a combination of different methods of transport

I tried a car-share but got car sick due to the type of roads.

I tried driving part way to Gourock, getting the train, then ferry then bus. Whilst trying this method, I thought that it may be possible to walk from the school to the ferry (Caledonian MacBrayne for this one) but the blisters on my heels on arrival at the boat proved me wrong.

I have no idea why I thought I could walk for 40 minutes in heels and even took the longest route possible because I wasn't familiar with the area yet!

However, the best way turned out to be driving to the Western Ferries at Gourock, taking the ferry and then sharing a car for the last leg to school.

Even this fairly straightforward plan wasn't without its difficulties. On one occasion it took me over five hours to get home due to high winds and flooding - driving round Greenock on your way home for Christmas when you don't know the roads is not recommended.

Weathering the storm

Once I made it to January, the whole process of becoming fully registered became a lot more relaxed and I made some really good friends along the way that wouldn't have been possible if I had been travelling alone.

So, in spite of arriving at school soaked to my underwear due to "adverse weather conditions" and not being sure whether I would make it home or not I'm glad I went to Dunoon because the support I received from colleagues and travel companions was invaluable.

Broadening my horizons

Well I've made it to the end and although I wouldn't have chosen to travel to Dunoon everyday, the process has broadened my horizons and I am now registered with eight councils for supply work because I now know how far you can travel in a day and still work well.

So, anybody that's finding travel difficult, take heart - you will get there! I'm proof that it's possible to juggle family difficulties, probationer pressure and difficult travel and come out a better and stronger teacher in the end.