10 things every new teacher should know.
Every year thousands of new teachers begin teaching in schools around the world, and in preparation they will all be going through a variety of stages. There is excitement, panic, fear, confidence, worries about confidence and back to excitement. If you are one of theses newbies, chances are some of you will have spent the last two or three months envisioning your classroom. How you will be different, the cool and successful teacher. The fact is though, teaching still has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry. So, if you are a new teacher, here is my list of 10 things every new teacher should know.
- You need to ask for help.
Here is the reality, no one will judge you for asking for help. If they do, don’t ask them. They will judge you if you never ask for help, and constantly screw up. We have all been in your shoes before, no one wants you to fail. Not only that, the wealth of knowledge of other teachers can be really useful to help you avoid potential problems (see #3).
2. You aren’t a student’s friend, earn their respect.
We all remember the ‘cool’ teacher in school. Although this is a horrible stereotype, they were probably a PE teacher. You probably also remember the teacher you learned the most from. Are they the same teacher? The ‘cool’ teacher reputation might sound great, but the drawbacks are massive. Notably, you have to remain cool to maintain that label. Try to remain cool when a student hasn’t done their work, is late or rude. Or, when your boss is coming into a lesson. The most successful teachers work hard to earn respect from students. You will know who these teachers are quickly, students will talk about them in a different (but positive) tone. Learn from these teachers.
3. You aren’t in charge.
So you have graduated university, got your teaching qualification and learned some of the latest research in education. This is not only an achievement, but there will be people who want to know what you know. Don’t confuse this for knowing everything. Decisions and policies will be made, sometimes you might get asked your opinions but many times you will not. They might make you angry, you view these as shortsighted or just plain wrong. Here’s the reality though, right now you are a very small cog in a massive piece of machinery. Everyone has someone else they answer to. Don’t like the decision? Work hard, try to understand the bigger picture. Someday you might be the one making them.
4. You will make mistakes, tough.
If a teacher tells you they have never made a mistake, they are either lying or painfully lacking self-awareness. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they are small(er), such as accidentally thinking someone is a girl who is actually a boy *as pointed out in a comment below, this might be so small in some cases. Perhaps instead, lets go with you call them the wrong name*. Sometimes they are bigger, like giving a detention that does not follow the school’s behaviour policy (guilty). What is important is that you find a way to learn from this. Think of how you would react if a student made a mistake? You want them to learn, and hopefully not make it again.
5. Parents will be both your advocates and biggest pains.
Little tip, print off pictures of students early to start learning their names. You may also wish to write which gender they identify as being as well (see #4). You will learn to love ‘good’ parents, those who support you and take an active interest in their children’s education. You will also have those who do not. They may not take an active role, or possibly understand how to or be able to. There will be some as well who will assume their children are angels. Rest assured, others teachers will know who these in-denial parents are. If you are nervous about meeting with these parents, get a colleague to join you.
6. Be professional.
Most teacher training programmes have this covered, but just in case be sure to learn about privacy settings. Yes this is mostly about social media, but also in everyday life. A teacher means that you are a teacher in and out of the school, and the public will view you as such. So, just remember that while you might have the privacy settings on Instagram, that doesn’t mean others can’t post pictures of you. Also, in every school there is the gossiper and the crank-pot members of staff. Try hard not to be one of them. It’s difficult, as who doesn’t love a bit of gossip.
7. You will never be on top of everything.
Are you OCD? If you are, I’m very jealous. OCD teachers seem impeccable at being able to have everything colour coded, cross referenced and systematic. That said, if this is you, be prepared to realize that not everything will be able to be done at the ‘perfect’ level all the time. Pick your battles. Yeah, one lesson might be as whizzy as you would like because reports are due. Dem the brakes man.
8. Don’t over commit.
It is so tempting to show your commitment to your new school by volunteering for things. As a line manager, I can assure you that we love new staff who do this. Especially if you are not in our department, we will prey on you. Avoid us. Seriously. Focus on your teaching first. Great teachers are far more valuable and employable than mediocre or tired teachers who volunteer for everything.
9. Have hobbies.
Kinda in the same vein as #7 and #8, hobbies are a good thing. It gives you something to focus (or un-focus) your brain on, outside of school. For me it is cooking. For others it is the gym, or knitting, or rowing, or hiking. Whatever it is, make sure you have something that is your ‘go to’ activity. A tired brain is never good.
10. Beware the one year mark.
Got to the end of year one? Great, year two is harder. In North American universities, more students drop out in year two than year one. In teaching your year one is filled with lots of support. In the UK you have a reduced timetable, a department keeping you under their wing and trust me we will have been generous with the class allocation for you. In year two, that’s gone. Yes you will be more confident (hopefully), but don’t misplace confidence for mastery. Remember tip #1, 3 and 4.
Yes, I said 10, but this is an important one. Take time to reflect. Not just on what didn’t go right, but want went well. Be happy with what went well, celebrate it! You became a teacher because you love your subject, because you love students, because you love getting people excited, or all of the above and then some. You are doing a job that is difficult at the best of times, but can really be rewarding. Yes you will get made fun of by friends because you have so many holidays (and don’t get sucked into that debate, you won’t win), but you will make a difference with at least one student. Celebrate that, just not on snapchat.
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