by Lynsie Monroe
To all those new to the world of teaching, hold on to your whiteboard pens, the remarkable journey you’re about to embark on makes Frodo’s quest look like a trip to the corner shop (pre-2020) and with your fresh insight and energy is sure to be full of precious moments.
Teaching is an uphill, wonderfully worthwhile struggle. With appropriate footwear and a resolute mindset, you will reach inconceivable heights, manage every emotion under the sun in the space of an hour and face moments of overwhelming joy without ever reaching the invisible summit.
Teachers feel their learners’ heartache, they feel their strength. However, their empathic approach to paving the way for future generations is not a gift or a bottled potion. It’s years of practice, failure, self-reflection, more practice to reach an expert level in a profession that I firmly believe matters more than any other.
Life in the classroom is unpredictable and heavy on the heart at the best of times but through it all, rest assured that, at the very least, you will leave a positive, lasting impression on one young person’s life. I honestly look back on my time in the classroom with nothing but gratitude and adoration. It was excruciatingly trying and demoralising at times.
However, through it all, I had a class, no a team of young minds right by my side, showing me in their own unique way, they wanted to be taught. Not just how to read and write but how to lose graciously, face emotional pressures with patience and build mutually respectful and beneficial relationships.
Anyone at the helm of a new venture, particularly during these extraordinary times, could benefit from some guidance and inspiration so I’ve put together a list of my three top tips that I hope will contribute to your strong start.
You will be presented with a plethora of information and responsibilities when you take on your new role as a class teacher. Ground yourself in the fundamentals and the complex pedagogies that underpin teaching and learning will be easier to master. What are the essential tasks? I would prioritise the following:
- Mark Bocker brought up probably the most essential question we need to be asking in his blog Mind the Gap: ‘What has happened in our children’s lives between lockdown and reopening schools?’ You must equip yourself with as much information as possible around how to protect the children and young people in your care and know who to go to if you have questions. If you don’t know, you must ask.
- Learn your learners’ names. It sounds obvious but knowing a person’s name is the first step towards knowing who they are, making them feel important and creating that sense of community within your classroom.
- Decide on a stopping signal. How will you get the attention of the whole class? Be prepared to explain the purpose behind the signal and to be crystal clear on the behaviour expectations attached to it – what exactly do you want your learners to do when they see/hear the signal?
- Establish a routine for entering the classroom. Display three simple, memorable steps on the board with visual cues for your learners to follow as soon as they arrive at the door.
- As learners start walking into your classroom know what you’re going to say and do so there is no doubt in their mind that you’re the adult in their life who is going to recognise the good, bring out the best and even during moments of irrational rage, rise up and meet them with kindness.
Setting the necessary foundations will make room for you and your learners to brave the world of education, singing and dancing to the tune of your class values with conviction.
There will be times when you lose yourself. As a teacher you’ll encounter tough situations, with your learners, with other colleagues, when trying to wrap your head around another policy change. My best days came when I had done something the evening before that reminded me of me – I played football, went for a run, belly laughed on the phone with my sister. These activities seemed to have an almost anaesthetic effect on my sleep pattern and at work the following day, I would glide effortlessly through the more trying situations.
There will be periods of time where doing anything after work other than eating and sleeping seems impossible. That’s ok. If you can engage in experiences outside of work that help you leverage the esteemed qualities that will allow your learners see you as a human first and teacher second 80% of the time, they will forgive you the times when you’re not quite yourself. When you fall, uncover and overtly explain to your learners what you’re doing to pick yourself up. Be their reminder of what determined people can overcome. Let them see you.
Beware the mob mentality
The staffroom is a space to unwind, collaborate, refuel. However, at times, a serene group of individuals enjoying a mid-morning break can suddenly be driven by some invisible force into a group negativity. We’re human and can always find some aspect of our jobs/personal lives to begrudge. Being an educator is about changing the course of a person’s life and there is no light and easy route. Aim to remain solution focussed, keep your eyes firmly on the bigger picture – the essence of why you chose to become a teacher and ask for help when you need it.
The most amazing moments will come when you relinquish that fixation on the policies and procedures you feel are hindering your ability to do the job at hand and you go back to basics, earth yourself and utilise the support of those around you. Noble intentions will lay way to mistakes but whatever barriers exist between you and your learners at the start, no matter what the setting or dynamic, there is nothing quite like seeing a child or young person you teach beam with pride because of something you’ve done.
It’ll honestly take everything you’ve got to make it as a teacher but when you feel yourself rising up and meeting whatever your learners throw at you (maybe even literally at times), with laudable optimism and dignity, you can be sure that while some chose to work hard to make millions, your passion and commitment is helping to make a difference.