This week, the Secret Teacher looks at the challenges of being on placement.

When I was at university studying to be a teacher, my lecturers were generally really positive about the fact we were going to be going on placement.

The only words of warning came from several lecturers telling us to be wary about how we behave in the staff room. In particular, what seat or mug you use.

This may sound bizarre to those outside of the teaching profession, but I can guarantee 99% of teachers in Scotland have been told a story about a school someone was in, where a student teacher was belittled because they unknowingly sat in someone’s seat or used their mug. Whenever I’ve been taken into a staff room, I’ve been told “don’t worry, we’re not one of those staff rooms,” alluding to the tales of experienced teachers who have sat in the same seat for 20 years, drinking out of the same “World’s Best Teacher!” mug, casting down a poor student for their crime.

Compared to the rest of our student lifestyle, placement was a bit of a culture shock. Suddenly working 12-hour days on top of having to commute a couple of hours every day. Trying to get to know 30 children while balancing how you want to teach them, how your university tutor wants you to teach them, and how your class teacher wants to teach them. Hours and hours of paperwork such as lesson plans, daily evaluations, short term plans, medium term plans, risk assessments, pupil assessments, re-writing policy documents etc.

The Herald:
The paperwork was probably the worst aspect of placement. Knowing you could be doing everything else right but then fail your placement due to not completing something or not reflecting on something sufficiently hangs over you throughout your placement. Finding out you are maybe not the most natural teacher isn’t easy either.

As you are so eager to do well and pass, I became extremely critical of any lesson I did and why it didn’t work. While this does eventually lead to you becoming a better teacher it can lead to some difficult times when you wonder if you can do it. Many can’t.

Most dropouts in the course happen during placement. I was very lucky – almost all of the mentor teachers I had were excellent. If it wasn’t for them, I reckon I would have chucked it.

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As you are miserably proof-reading your daily evaluation, a numpty in your course sends one of those gloating tweets/messages about how they are thriving in their placement and how a child said they were like Miss Honey from Matilda (I’m afraid this is a real example). This only serves to compound any self-doubt you are having.

What you don’t see is the person sending that tweet out is sometimes more miserable than you and is sending this to convince others (and themselves) that they are doing fine. If you are a student teacher, please don’t do this.

I think of this a lot when student teachers arrive at my school now. I remember how physically and mentally draining the placement can be. I usually joke with them about counting down the days till it’s over as I want them to know that it’s fine not to be enjoying it. Every staff room I have been in counts down the days to the nearest holiday or even weekend.

The Herald:
I love my job now and I wish I could tell the student me that this is the case. All the hard work in placements ended up being completely worth it so I’m so glad I stuck with it out of sheer determination and refusal to accept I couldn’t do it. I’m in awe of student teachers who manage to complete placement whilst juggling the responsibilities of a young family or caring responsibilities. I could barely look after myself when I was a student teacher.

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Being able to support a student teacher now is a privilege. It’s so important to show students not only how to teach but how to manage a work/life balance so that they don’t burn themselves out later down the line. They don’t have an opportunity for a work/life balance when they are on placement, but once they qualify that needs to be a target for students in their early years as a fully qualified teacher.

I can think back to all the mentor teachers I had and can pinpoint teaching characteristics and techniques I learned from them all.  It’s not easy though. While in theory they teach the class for parts of the week and are a huge help to meet the needs in your class, supporting them effectively takes time. They deserve and need our support so that the ripple effect can pass on to their future classes and then, ultimately, the cycle starts again and they will be responsible for their own student teachers.