Okay so you have either been accepted on a teaching training program or you have landed that first job. Depending on your experience you will feel nervous, intimidated and excited. But listen, don’t worry. Teaching is a very stressful job but it is also highly rewarding.
As a teacher of more than twelve years and in many educational environments – from high attaining schools to deprived inner city schools and even an all girl school – I understand the difficulties of the job and that the school and the environment can vary.
Here are some tips to help you when you are ready to stand in front of the most critical and demanding audience you will ever face in your life, but also the most important: your pupils.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Before you even go into the classroom you know you are an expert in your field. Be at the very least one step ahead of the learners, but hopefully so far advanced you can wow them with your knowledge and skills. This will help in the long run. Everyone makes mistakes now and again, so don’t dwell on that, but make sure you have information and knowledge to create your reputation and credibility among the pupils. If you can pass on some interesting facts and anecdotes that are relevant (even if not in a textbook) they will love you for it.
You want pupils to come into your class knowing they are going to learn and be interested. So be interesting.
Preparation is everything in teaching. When you start out at first you will need to get to know your classes and indeed your pupils. You should have seating plans done so you know who sits where and this helps get to know their names quickly. This is vital for discipline and good relationships with the learners. Remember, you are the adult, you are in control. You decide where they sit. Never, ever, ever let the pupils decide where they sit. You are the boss.
Are your lessons well planned? – in the first few years of teaching you will do a lot of prep and development work – but it pays off. Always make sure you have a starter, a body of the lesson with pupil activities and a plenary to finish off. Later, when more experienced be more flexible, but at the start you need to stick to structure.
Also ensue you have enough material in a lesson to last. Some pupils will finish early and need a challenge. Encourage this and reward it.
ESTABLISH RULES AND ROUTINES
This may seem obvious, but how you start and end your lesson is crucial. You have to lay down the rules, the law from the get go. Depending on the culture of your school and the year group involved, have the pupils line up outside the room. Be on time to greet them and see them into the room.
Have a pre-designated policy for giving out materials and resources – either the same pupils every lesson or a rota – so pupils are in and ready to work.
Go over the school and departmental rules at the start and periodically. Have some rules of your own too. I have three simple rules: Listen to instructions, Cooperate in class, and Respect people and equipment.
Have a routine in how you finish the lesson also. Have the room neat and tidy and packed up before the next class – even if you are staying in that room.
Pupils do like rules and routines and it also means they then know the boundaries. Be tough but fair at the start with pupils.
I do not believe that being ultra strict with pupils works. Now I am not saying have a laissez-faire approach where anything goes, far from it. But I believe you have to keep control and the pupils need to know you are the adult and you are the boss.
However, I never subscribed to the “Don’t smile before Christmas” idea in many textbooks. I could be wrong, but I believe you have to build a rapport with pupils.
Now it won’t work with every pupil. Some pupils do not wish to attend school and will rebel against you no matter what. With other pupils it might be a personality clash that will just never be resolved.
Before we discuss building rapport, I think it is crucial to remember you are not their friend. Be friendly, but not their friend. Never add pupils on Facebook, Twitter or any other Social Media. That is a no-no. Again pupils have to know you are the adult, they are the child.
But one of the best ways to build rapport is to find out what they like and what hobbies they have. If you have a chance, have the pupils write or answer some questions where you can gather some information on them. Use this in conversation with the class and pupils during the ‘deadtime’ in a lesson (ie when pupils are entering or packing up/leaving a class).
I would also urge you to always say hello or to acknowledge a pupil in the corridor. Treat pupils as a person. Also I think gentle ribbing, or winding up is healthy. Pupils love it when you slag off (not them as people) but perhaps their favorite sports team or a movie they like. When done properly they know you are kidding.
You want to create a friendly and caring environment for pupils and their learning.
Don’t just hide in your classroom or department. Get involved in extracurricular activities. This will help pupils see you in a different light and develop your own professional skills. It will also give you more to talk about in future interviews for jobs!
It is healthy for you to get out of your comfort zone and maybe have a role in the school show or take a sports team. It will also help you get to know pupils who you don’t teach – they will talk to their peers and if they think you are fun and a decent person then that will boost your ‘street-cred’ - and staff who are not in your department.
Be very careful, you are a role model to young impressionable people. Be ultra professional. Never say or condone anything inappropriate for a school setting.
As I said earlier you are not the learners’ friend. You are there to educate them, but also be a positive influence on them.
Also never gossip with pupils. I have witnessed and heard from pupils’ cases of teachers who will talk to learners about their personal and private life or other teachers. This is plainly wrong and can lead to disciplinary measures.
Your private and personal life is out-of-bounds. Do not tell the anything! Not what you did at the weekend. Not who your partner is. Not what car you drive. Nothing. It is none of their business!
And never go down the route of agreeing or condoning pupil’s speaking out of turn about other members of staff, even if the teacher involved is “rubbish”, “lazy” or whatever. Who knows what they say about you? Kids do exaggerate! Always defend to the hilt other members of staff. If there is an issue with a colleague, that is management’s problem, not yours.
Pupils know when you are patronising them. I think this really does grind their gears! Be honest about their work. Don’t get me wrong, don’t slate pupils and destroy their confidence, be as constructive as possible. But kids can see right through you. So if their work isn’t up to scratch, tell them!
But use praise and any merit system you have at your disposal wisely. Make your pupils earn it.
So there you have seven tips on how to get started as a new teacher. It is a great job with great rewards (not financial mind you!) but it is challenging. Your personality is key. Be resilient and organised. Anyway, good luck with the career!