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The best thing I've done

Emily completed her PGDE at Moray House, University of Edinburgh, and undertook her probationary year at Wester Hailes Education Centre, located in south-west Edinburgh. Emily has been offered a full time permanent position at Wester Hailes.

Emily Thorburn, Secondary English Teacher, Edinburgh

I was going to start this blog post by saying ‘your probationary year is like being on a rollercoaster’, but then I realised two things: one, that’s a cliché and as an English teacher I really should be able to do better, and, two, ‘like a rollercoaster’ just doesn’t do your probationary year justice. So I brainstormed further. Maybe your probation year is like running a marathon? Or maybe it’s like a puppy learning to swim, frantically paddling to stay afloat? But none of my ill-advised similes seemed to quite fit the bill, and that’s when it hit me: my probationary year had been so unique that it just couldn’t be summed up or explained in one line.

Thinking back to last year, when I was a student at Moray House, I can remember entering the following line on a course evaluation: ‘this is one of the hardest things I’ve done, but it’s one of the best’. I was wrong. Probation is the hardest, but the best thing I’ve done.

Having (nearly) reached the summer holidays relatively unscathed and definitely still smiling, I’ve shared three of the things I’ve learnt on this whirlwind year.

Consistency is key

I know, you’ve heard it before right? I was told this numerous times while on placements and I thought I understood it. A good teacher is consistent with behaviour expectations and in their approaches to classroom management etc. and this is true. But consistency is more than this. I undertook my probation year at a school located in an area of high social deprivation, where a number of students come from turbulent backgrounds and, for them, coming to school is the most consistent part of their day. As their teacher, my role was and is more than a provider of knowledge. It’s about being a constant in their lives, a reliable figure who they know is there for them, day in day out. The role of the class teacher is both academic and pastoral. I've found being able to offer consistent pastoral support an integral part of building positive and sustained relationships with students. Listen to them (even when they’re telling you about ‘Fortnite’ and you’ve got literally no idea what they’re talking about) and show them you’re there. After all, we all know good teaching is about good relationships.

You’re not alone

It’s such a cliché, but you’re really not. Granted, I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a department with incredibly supportive colleagues and I’ve also received mentoring from our Senior Management Team and my supporter (huge thanks to them) but, nonetheless, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, to tell people that you’re baffled or admit you’re struggling. You aren’t supposed to know everything yet and no one expects it of you. In the same vein, don’t think twice about sticking your hand up at a CPD event and asking 101 questions - you’re learning!

Sleep

Best advice ever. Over the Christmas Holidays, I was sleeping eleven hours a night and napping for three hours a day, not dissimilar to a newborn infant. If you’d Googled ‘tired’ you’d have come across a picture of my face. You can’t teach if you’re exhausted (and you will be). If you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to be irritable and stressed and your students can tell, trust me. So stop marking and making your 957th Powerpoint of evening and go to sleep. Oh, and enjoy the weekends.

Before I became a teacher a wise woman (and former boss), herself a former Headteacher, told me that ‘teaching is the best job in the world and the hardest job in the world all in the same day’ and how right she was. Your probationary year really will be something you’ll never forget, so enjoy it and (here comes another cliché) never underestimate how much teachers matter.
Oh, and learn to smile and bite your tongue when your non-teacher friends make comments about your ‘constant’ holidays!