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How to survive your probation year

Amid the excitement of your new role, it’s important to look after yourself, believes Leanne Welsh

Leanne Welsh, English teacher, Falkirk

There is no doubt that the summer before starting the probationary year is filled with excitement and anticipation. I remember looking forward to having classes I could call my own and putting into practice the work from my PGDE year. I wanted to establish expectations, build relationships and do everything possible to improve my teaching for the pupils. However, although improving practice is essential, your wellbeing is of the utmost importance. It is vital to look after yourself in order to develop as a teacher and be the best you can be for the pupils.

Support

It is extremely important to have someone in your probationary school to go to for support. You will have a mentor in the school and you may be lucky enough to have a fantastic one. I had a great mentor who was not in my department. It was great to have someone whom I could speak to about the GTCS profile, but it was also amazing to have someone to share the lightbulb moments with and to get things off my chest. Sadly, most schools do not assign a mentor after the probationary period, but remember that everyone will always need support no matter how many years they have been teaching: asking for it is definitely not a sign of weakness and, if anything, it will help you to become a better teacher.

It is also crucial to remember that teachers with 20 years’ experience are still learning: they may look to you for positivity and enthusiasm and you should let them

As well as support in school, always make sure you talk to your family and friends. It can be easy to become absorbed in teaching, especially in the first year; however, it is important to remember that you have a life outside of school and people who care about you. It is healthy to have more going on in your life than teaching. Although teaching is rewarding, no-one is expecting you to give up holidays and weekends to plan and mark.

Learn from others and let others learn from you

In addition to making sure you ask for advice and use the support provided, ensure you do not try and reinvent the wheel. I have learned that it is the purpose of the resources, adapting them to suit the needs of the pupils and the teacher’s delivery that really makes the difference. There will be times when you do have original and creative ideas, but you shouldn’t feel the need to put your wellbeing at risk. Focus on the purpose of your lessons and give yourself time to build relationships with pupils and staff. It is also crucial to remember that teachers with 20 years’ experience are still learning: they may look to you for positivity and enthusiasm and you should let them.

If you learned something in your student year that is working well for you, make sure you share it with your colleagues as they may appreciate the fresh ideas. It is easy for us to become “set in our ways”; therefore, we always have to make sure we are bouncing off each other in order to improve learning and teaching. Having confidence in your own ability is great for wellbeing and it will help you to be the best you can be for the pupils in your classes.

Making time for you

I touched on this briefly, but it is essential for wellbeing. Make sure you don’t stay in school until the doors are locked every evening and make sure you are not the first person in the car park every morning – the pupils will thank you for it. Take some time after school to do things you enjoyed doing before teaching; this can be hobbies, catching up with friends or just relaxing reading a book. I notice a huge difference when I restrict how much I work and I feel that I am a better teacher for taking the break.

My wellbeing also improves when I make sure I get enough sleep at night. It can be tempting to stay up all night and as I am doing my M.Ed., I have done this; however, I notice the change when I make sure that I am rested and ready for the next day. Getting the balance right is not always easy, but it can make a big difference in terms of how you approach your teaching day. At times it can feel like time is moving really quickly and you might struggle to keep up; however, if you slow everything down and make sure you take time to relax, you will enjoy your year as an NQT and the challenges it has to offer.