Ups and downs of probation

A year of ups and downs: Nicola Henderson remembers the yo-yo effect of her probationer year.

Primary Teacher, Clermiston Primary School, Edinburgh

After having a relatively positive and smooth experience during my PGDE, I came into my probation year last August with high hopes.

Not only was I full of excitement about my upcoming year, but I was nervous and apprehensive about what was waiting for me behind those double doors, what would my school be like, would my mentor and the staff be supportive and would I really be able to cope with a class full of 4 and 5 year olds?

Little did I realise however, that my probation year would have more ups and downs than a yo-yo and that I had to seriously prepare myself for what was now going to be my heart racing, exhilarating, daunting and extremely demanding life.

Would I really manage?

Well, 7 months on and I can honestly say that I have cheered with joy, been on top of the world one moment and in the depths of despair the next.

But you really can't help but smile when you get a marriage proposal from a 5 year old or see the proud looks on the parents' faces at the Christmas Nativity.

The highs

I've had lots of high points so far, mainly around planning, shadowing and enterprising.


I know, a rather strange one, but receiving some excellent feedback about my terms planning folder from my head teacher really gave me a buzz and proved to myself that I was capable of forward planning despite my previous doubts


Definitely one of the most beneficial uses of my CPD time, especially being able to see other schools and 'borrow' ideas from more experienced staff. Also being Queen Hendilot for an afternoon in a P4 class learning about castles wasn't half bad either, it's not everyday you can be royalty


Having recently held a toy exhibition, I can't forget to include this definite high. It was great seeing my class revel in becoming tour guides for their parents. They created everything for their exhibition and made their own invitations and tickets for the event. The hard work in the lead up to the day was exhausting but well worth it, hearing the children share their learning with them

The lows

Despite these frequent jumps for joy, my low experiences really did hit me hard. I've cried on numerous occasions and questioned myself continually. The support of my mentor and the school staff really helped get me through these difficult times.

Some of my key low points have been my nerves about teaching Primary 1, my observations and the prospect of job-hunting.


Finding out that for a whole year I would be responsible for the first year of 19 children's entire school careers, the heavy feeling on my shoulders was immense, I wasn't sure I could do it and did I really want to teach in early years?


Flashback to university tutor visits! Will my next observed lesson be the one when they will eventually decide that I'm not any good? Has it all been a dream and I'll soon wake up and find myself in a nightmare and not qualify after all my hard work and effort.


As with all probationers in my situation, that impending dread that after this year I won't be able to find a job really plays on my mind. I comfort myself in the solace that it will all turn out all right in the end. (Well it has to, doesn't it?)

These despairing moments have, despite feeling horrendous at the time, I think made me into a more reflective teacher. I've accepted that these low feelings are mostly due to my own impossible high expectations and that putting myself under too much pressure to be 'practically perfect in every way' was resulting in what felt like failure too many times.

Looking forward

This job is so demanding that to be able to do everything 'excellent' is virtually impossible and instead to do everything 'well' and some things hopefully 'excellent' was, for me, a more plausible goal.

So, with only a few months left, I'm beginning to look forward, already I'm trying not to think about my class having another teacher next year, because despite my initial reservations about the early years, I very quickly came to realise that I really do think my class are great.

They have grown up, changed and learned so much over the past year and I know I will miss them dearly, they really are what makes my job worthwhile and it is them who motivate me and make me love what I do.