Today’s post is the second in a series offering advice to new teachers. It comes to you from Mark O’Sullivan who has been teaching high school English in Australia for 17 years. He blogs over at mountainmoss.wordpress.com and you can follow him on Twitter – @mountainmoss.
Considering that the owner of this blog is a primary teacher (whom I have known since university), the first thing you should know – I am a high school teacher, so my advice might be slightly different in tone and emphasis than the others.
1. Know Your Strengths.
We all have particular strengths as people and the same goes for us as teachers. Be honest with yourself and know what your strengths might well be as a beginning teacher. That might be communicating with people, knowing subject matter, having empathy with the children you are about to teach. It’s not arrogance to know what you’re good at. It’s a good idea, however, to not say you have these strengths to everyone. Your mentor, though, is a good person to discuss these strengths with.
2. Know Your Weaknesses.
The flipside is that we all have weaknesses. Every teacher, even the so-called Super Teachers (and they exist) has a weakness. If you haven’t identified a weakness before you walk in the door, you’ll soon find them. Be honest to yourself about them and work on strategies to minimise the difficulties they will cause you. Importantly, be honest with a mentor about those weaknesses. Guaranteed a good mentor will understand.
3. Know Your Class.
Knowing children is very important to them, especially their names – but even more so, their interests. They hold their interests very dearly, so get interested. I even pretended to like rugby league to endear myself to students. Believe me, that’s commitment.
4. Establishing Routines is Important.
One thing I remember about going into the workplace that was a school, it was difficult for me to get into routines and realise that routines are a crucial part of teaching. I am a more creative soul than many and the idea of sticking to things was an anathema to me. Your students, though, will thrive if they understand that there are routines and a direction to what is happening. You will be happier too if you recognise that there are important routines like coffee and lunch.
5. Your Food. Important.
Lunch, by the way, is an important thing to work out. Home made? Canteen? If you don’t get your food intake worked out, your energy levels will be an issue, especially as primary school aged children are exhausting. You will find out pretty quickly that the 10 week term makes different demands on you than the part time jobs you will have done in university.
Yes, money is important. One of the biggest mistakes I made as a first year out teacher living at home was not saving much money. I hadn’t had a full time salary before and whammo, I just spent like crazy.
Children notice clothes and will quickly point out if you wear the same clothes too often, plus will notice your style. So, have a style in mind and fit into it. But it must be practical, especially on days when mess is in the lesson plan.
Many of your students will be using all variety of technology at home, possibly much more than even you – especially tablets. My two children have had their ipads for a year now and they are fully conversant with movie making, Minecraft and various other apps. Your school’s technology policy and way of working with technology will probably be quickly evolving from the time you arrive.
The first year of teaching should be a listening year – listening to other teachers, listening to students, listening to parents. It’s a good idea to respond, of course, but it’s crucial that you take in everything, even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything you hear at first. Opinions are best formed as a response to time and a wealth of material. Those around you will respect your opinion more if it based on a variety of sources and time reflecting. One of the best young teachers I have worked with barely spoke in the staffroom in his first year – because he was listening. Four years later, he gained more respect from his colleagues than many of those with twice his experience.
10. Reinvent the Wheel – Your Way.
One of the most annoying questions I hear as a teacher is “why waste time reinventing the wheel?”. You will hear it from time poor teachers wanting to do things the way they have always been done. It is important that you as a teacher customise your teaching to fit your context – that is, as someone who knows your class and knows how best things will work. The “wheel” actually needs to be shod with a Pirelli, Michelin or Bridgestone with a particular tread.
11. Parents Can Be a Great Ally.
Parents can be a great ally, especially if you get an opportunity to understand how parents work with your students at home. I have always enjoyed parent teacher meetings, because you get an insight into what your students are like away from the classroom, which is vital information to help you connect with the student. If parents are difficult, asking for the specifics of their concerns is important – and learn from them, if the concerns are valid.
12. Have Fun.
Teaching should be fun some days – for some, every day. Your students should give you energy and you should embrace those moments where you know you’ve made a difference – that they have learnt something from you. And they learn from you in terms of what you are saying as well as from who you are. You’re in this gig because you care. Kids get that, and appreciate it.
Bio – I’m Mark O’Sullivan, English Teacher for 17 years. I’m about to embark upon a new adventure, leaving a school where I had been teaching for 10 years and starting at Domremy College in Five Dock. I occasionally blog at mountainmoss.wordpress.com and am also known as @mountainmoss