How to survive your probation year

Dale Shankland describes how he survived during his probation year.

Dale Shankland, Mathematics teacher, Stirling

It’s some rollercoaster. You’ll go from the highest of highs, with pupil-led collaborative investigations, to the lowest of lows, where it seems like a riot within your classroom. However, the journey is all worth it and you will grow not only as a teacher but as a person too.

The first thing that I have to say is that it is okay to ask for help. I wish I swallowed my pride earlier and realised that asking for help was not a sign of weakness. You are not expected to know or be able to do everything. You are also not the only teacher to be struggling to get THAT pupil to engage with the learning. Struggle is normal and you will actually learn more from it. I found that any teacher I asked was more than willing to help. They would reassure my worries, share their own advice and examples, direct me to other members of staff who could assist me, and would often check up on me later on. I thought I was lucky being in such a supportive school but I’ve heard similar stories across the board from other probationers. Support is there. You just have to be ready to seek it out and accept it.

The next piece of advice starts with a warning: everybody will want a piece of you. By that I mean staff see these new keen probationers, with the reduced timetable and the need and want to get involved, as prime targets for their groups and projects. You may feel like you have to be a yes man and get involved with everything, but you can come to regret this later. Avoid spreading yourself too thinly, and only get involved with things that you are truly passionate about. You’ll avoid burdening yourself with a mountain of work atop the already demanding requirements of teaching, reducing the chance of burn out. More importantly though, you can dedicate yourself and your time to what truly matters to you, and produce better quality results for them.

Furthermore, no matter how dedicated you are to teaching remember that it is not your entire life. You are a person, not just a teacher. I would stay late at work to go home, get dinner, then work at home. I judged the success of the film ‘It’ by the fact it kept my mind off work for two hours and fifteen minutes. Work smart, not just hard. As a perfectionist, I had to ask myself if every piece of work had to be up to the same (impractical) above and beyond standard. The real question I would recommend is: does this need to be done now, or can it wait until tomorrow? Evaluate your priorities and remember that you have a life outside of work.

I would like to end on a quote from Maya Angelou (which every teacher has probably seen or used): “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”. This could not be more relevant to teaching. Pupils may not remember every single thing we teach them about our subjects, but they will remember you as a character and the relationships you build with them. Forming relationships are the foundations of teaching and learning. It’ll be a tough year, but you’ll learn, and you’ll love it. Have fun!

P.S. Go on all the staff nights out. The moment you cement yourself as a legend on the dancefloor is the moment you win over all staff.