Hi all, I wanted to post this here to find as wide an audience as possible. It’s just a sheet of reminders that I use with student teachers or new teachers over the last few years. I don’t recall where the base idea came from (I think it was originally ‘5 things to remember’) so apologies for being unable to acknowledge whoever started it, but I have added in my own stories and thoughts over the last 8 years or so. Feel free to copy and share…it’s a bit of a ‘ship of Theseus’ so add, modify, change!
Ten things that would have been good to know when I started teaching…
- The advice – it keeps coming
You will hear lots of advice your first year. Some will be good, some will be bad, but you won’t realize that until you have more experience. Advice is likely to come from at least three different sources:
Professional development (PD): When done right, PD sessions can be quite useful, but often they overwhelm new teachers. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing every last thing that begins with the words, “Research says…”
Other teachers: Veteran teachers are often the best sources of information, but you may find that your colleagues are not able to entirely articulate their techniques. You may also find that these teachers give advice based on what they think they should be doing instead of what they are actually doing.
Nonteachers: It seems that everyone has an opinion about education, especially people who aren’t teachers. Since you are a teacher, be prepared to hear all about what you should be doing in the classroom. You’ll probably hear a lot of “Let them know you care” or, “You have so many holidays!”
- Don’t take it personally
Some students are very good at saying things that are designed to push a teacher’s buttons and get a response. A huge thing to understand is that these comments are rarely about YOU. They are almost always triggered by baggage that the student is bringing from outside of your classroom. But if you respond badly then the student/teacher relationship will be affected adversely. The best way to treat negative/disruptive comments is to have a conversation with the student about them after class. Explain why you can’t have those comments in the classroom, and offer an opportunity for the student to explain why they are making the comments, but do it calmly. I always imagine that there is a video camera recording the conversation and that my calmness will have a huge impact on how the student accepts what I am saying.
- Your classroom is your first responsibility
When you’re the new teacher on the block, it’s tempting to sign up for any opportunity that comes your way so that you can prove yourself. Unless you were specifically hired to run a program or coach, don’t take on other responsibilities until you have a firm grip on teaching.
I got stung with the junior cricket team in my first position…zip goes 3 hours practice a week and the entire Saturday morning — this turned into a nightmare when I was still learning the essentials of teaching. Learn to walk before you run.
- You can’t change everything the first year—and you shouldn’t try to
You’re coming into the school with a new set of eyes, which means that you’ll see flaws or ways of doing things that seem inefficient or unfair. Always remember that your classroom is your first responsibility. Focus your attention on becoming a better teacher, not on fighting the system.
- Ask for help and accept it
New teachers often make the mistake of thinking that they have to design all of their own lesson plans, worksheets and assignments. There’s nothing wrong with designing your own resources, but you should also be open to getting ideas from other teachers. There’s a definite value in your creativity, but there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. You’ll quickly exhaust yourself.
- Your students are kids, no matter how big they are
If you are an average-sized adult and you teach at a high school, you’re going to be working with students who are bigger, taller, and physically stronger than you are. Here are two pieces of advice: First, don’t allow your students’ size or appearance to intimidate you; second, keep your preconceptions in check and don’t allow superficialities to keep you from caring about your students. This is obviously much more relevant in a boy’s school.
- Don’t be too worried about your students liking you
You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and even if you haven’t, you know from experience that love and intimacy are basic human needs. We all want to love and be loved—but you’re going to do a lot of damage when you try to earn your students affection by letting classroom management slip.
It can feel unnatural, especially for young teachers, to play the role of a strict adult, but keep in mind that freedom is easier to give than take away.
Your students have friends—and let’s be honest, you’ll never be as cool as they are. You are an authority figure and a leader. Be one, or do like I do, and at least ‘act’ like one.
- Make a schedule for paperwork
First, you’re not going to believe how much of your job is tied up in paperwork.
Second, the paperwork won’t end until sometime in late November. (Do NOT, repeat DO NOT mark for NCEA until you’ve been in the job for at least 3 years)
Third, you’re going to get tired of it—and because you’re tired of it, it’s going to be tempting to put paperwork off.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is create a realistic marking schedule and stick to it. If you know you can only mark 8-12 papers in a night, don’t bring home a stack of 20; this will stress you out and lead to exhaustion.
- Teaching is physically exhausting
As a new teacher, in the long winter months, you will often drive to and from work in the dark. You’re on your feet all day and when you go home, you’ll probably think about the students that are at-risk or classes that are mentally/emotionally draining. I know that after every first Monday back I am just drained mentally and physically and I just crash by 8.30pm. (Note to Leadership teams, don’t have a staff meeting on the afternoon of first Monday back each term. It’s pointless, and the Geneva Convention should expressly forbid it!) Even so, there’s some good news if you keep reading.
- Things do get better
There will be days—and perhaps many of them—when you’re so physically exhausted and discouraged that you will consider throwing in the towel. During these times, do your best to remember that there’s a reason why people have chosen to become teachers: Certain moments in teaching more than make up for your worst days. Be patient. These moments will come—and when they do, you will be totally inspired and energised. I was once mentioned in the Head Prefects end of year speech is an inspiring person in his life. That made teaching worthwhile to me for about 10 years!