October 22, 2014 by Sian Rowland
Recently I’ve been working with new teachers and introducing them to the delights of my subject area, PSHE. As I look out at the next generation of teachers standing on the thresholds of their new careers I’d love to be able to offer them some advice about the future. They’ll get filled with advice about running their classroom, behaviour management and ‘top tips.’ However, if I can pass any of my experience on about being a teacher in general it’s this:
1) Try not to get cynical. This from an old cynic. It’s very easy to be dragged into endless debates about the latest idiotic directive from the DfE, the way parents bring up their children and how society at large blames teachers for pretty much everything. I’m surprised that the media haven’t decided that teachers are to blame for the ebola outbreak or the existence of Nigel Farage. It’s ok to have a good old whinge with friends and colleagues but leave your cynicism at the classroom door and remember why you went into teaching*
2) Talking of which, unless you went into teaching because no one else would have you, you thought the hours were short and the pension looked fun- in which case you might want to run away screaming right now- you’ll have a reason for wanting to teach. Perhaps you love working with children, think you have something to offer the next generation or are passionate about your subject. When your class have been going wild all day, a parent has given you the hairdryer treatment and you’ve deleted an entire term’s planning by accident, try to hold onto this reason. You are making a difference.
3) Which leads me to my next point- don’t feel undervalued. When people make jokes about messing about children all day, long holidays and that perennial favourite ‘those who can ha ha,’ take it in good spirit and brush it off. When people asked me what I did and I replied ‘teacher’ it led to all sorts of debate and interest. Now , when I mutter something about training, writing and stuff, most people give a polite, ‘oh that’s…uh…interesting.’ If all the teachers disappeared tomorrow we’d be in a pickle.
4) A teacher’s work is never done. You will never feel that you’ve completed everything you wanted to do. There is always something else to be done and it’s easy to end up staying in a freezing classroom late into the night while the site manager rattles keys and sighs heavily. While it’s good to be prepared and organised, martyring yourself to the cause does not make you a better teacher. In fact, you’ll be a much more effective teacher if you set a cut-off point, go and have some fun and get an adequate amount of sleep. I’ve worked with teachers who use their lateness as a badge of honour- Miss So and So stays until nine o’clock every night and comes in at 6am, people whisper in awe. If the site manager let her, she’d work all summer holiday and every weekend too. Let’s be honest, she’d be happy to grab a couple of hours of kip on the camp bed in the medical room and live on school milk and stale birthday cake. That’s all well and good but the more interesting and rounded educators I’ve met tend to be those that know when to stop and go home to families, friends or at least a box set in the telly or a flower-arranging class.
5) It’s great to have friends who are teachers– they’re the only ones who will fully understood the elation of a lesson going brilliantly and the utter despair of a session falling apart under your nose. But hang out with non-teaching friends too. They can give you a different perspective when things gets you down. Schools can become very small and introspective places and it’s good to be reminded that there is a bigger world out there. Plus you won’t get stuck discussing APP levels over cocktails or who has the battiest head teacher at karaoke. If you do need to discuss a tricky point with a fellow teacher, try Twitter #UKedchat on a Thursday evening. It’s magic stuff.
6) Work with parents not against them. It’s easy to think that as professionals we know everything there is to know about children and sometimes we do but it’s essential to work with parents rather than against them. Listen to their rants, mop up their tears and don’t hide when you see a certain parent stomping up the path. Make an appointment at a time that suits you both, square your shoulders and meet them with a smile. Maintain open lines of communication and they could be your greatest allies.
Now off you go, new teachers into the wild and be careful out there!
*I’m writing this listening to the radio where there’s a phone in about how teachers should check children’s mouths and teach them how to brush their teeth. Sigh.