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I’m 37 years old and still have to pinch myself to ensure my job is real. Advice for the new year.

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This post is an attempt to offer some advice to those who have chosen teaching as a career, mainly because I’m trying to procrastinate a little further. But first a story.  This week I took my son to Beddgelert in Snowdonia National Park, the home of a Welsh legend that I learnt about when a pupil at school.  Gelert was medieval Prince Llewellyn's hound.  One day, when the Prince was off hunting, the prince’s dwelling was attacked by a big, hungry wolf.  Gelert fought the creature off.  However, when Llewellyn returned to a blood soaked dog, he assumed that Gelert had attacked and eaten his baby son.  In a rage,  the prince slaughtered Gelert. Once the life had been drained from the dog, the prince heard a baby cry, and found his son untouched.  Gelert had fought off the wolf, whose blood soaked the hounds coat. 

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The grave can be visited at the village Beddgelert (meaning Gelert’s Grave) and the area is looked after by the National Trust (there’s also a fantastic ice cream shop…). As the Prince, realising his error, buried his faithful canine close to his palace.  Now, you are probably wondering what this has to do with teaching… This moral of the story is not to rush in without the full facts.  Never assume and never let emotions get the better of you.  When teaching, I’ve often felt pulled away from my core principles by loud voices.  It’s also a bloody great job.  Yes, it’s full of missions and rubbish, but it’s important and fulfilling. 

This links to my ideal model of teaching and learning.

What is the point of school

So, my tips for teaching? In no particular order:

1. Be prepared to keep learning and take advice.

If it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become expert at something, then I’m no expert.  As a rough, back of a fag packet estimate, I’ve taught around 7,000 hours – there are very few experts-at-everything and I admit that I’m still learning.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve good outcomes though.  Talk to people and take their advice. Be a critical friend and change.   I’ll take advice from colleagues who have been in the school longer – it’s not about getting one over on colleagues, it’s about working as a team.  The staff room cynic et al? They usually have a point, so listen and take the piss, but don’t dismiss them.

2. Decide what you’re about.

What’s your personal philosophy for teaching?  It’s about external results for you, get over it.  That doesn’t mean that it has to dictate your every move. It’s about life chances for young people.  It’s also about helping to develop decent human beings.  Sort out what you’re about.

3. Sort out your subject knowledge and don’t ever stop.

This is one of the most important things ever and includes knowledge of examinations.  ALL subjects change, so this is also about taking an active and academic interest in your subject at the university level. If you’re a secondary teacher, get over the fact that our primary colleagues are probably doing a better job then we are. Connect with others on Twitter (and ignore the trolls and numpties – that’s what the block function is for) read but most of all, connect with your subject association and local teachers – they are the most important resource.  Mainly because as well as giving contextualised advice, they are also within striking distance of buying you a beer.

4. Sort out behaviour.

Planning great sequences of lessons that engage young people will help your classes.  I’ve changed schools on four occasions and it’s a bloody difficult thing to do.  Trust me, keep being persistent, consistent and insistent and you’ll win them over.  In terms of behaviour – get this right.  I believe in strong routines – you’re not there to be their mate ad you don’t have to be liked by young people.  Indeed, those that aren’t friendly are often the most respected by students.  It does really help though if you actually enjoy working with young people – most of your time is going to be spent with them.

The start of lessons is a key moment, ensure that they know it’s your space that they are coming in to.  Meet and greet them with genuine interest (not the fake ‘have a nice day’ stuff). Have something for them to do straight away and insist that they do it to the best of their ability.  You don’t really ever need to shout.

5. Be the professional adult. It’s most probably you, not them.

The advice of a departing deputy is still ringing in my ears.  They are children and prone to being muppets, having tantrums and making really, really bad choices.  That doesn’t mean that we should reciprocate.  It was a difficult thing for me to accept, but most of the time, if a lesson has gone wrong or I’ve been told to fuck off, on reflection, it’s me that could have done something better.

6. Be you.

Not a robot. You’re allowed to smile and ensure that they know you care about their learning. Do this by teaching them well.

7. Don’t expect them to do anything that you haven’t done.

How do you know that activity will work? Would you pick up your litter? Do you hold open doors and say hello in the corridor?

8. Learn to prioritise.

The most important thing to do is to be there for the students.  Look at their work, mark, plan and teach.  Work out what you can ignore and come up with a system to prioritise.  When you’ve done that, let me know.  The frantic nature of term time is one of the things I love about this profession. It’s full on bullet train madness.

9. Never assume

Remember that everyone is probably finding it hard going, especially at particular times of year.  This goes for the evil senior team and even the young people.  Get some perspective by talking to normal people (by that I mean non-teachers) and especially make friends with nurses. My sister is one and she has a really shit deal.  Don’t read the Guardian's Secret Teacher or the TES forums.  

10. Never, ever, ever give up.

And don’t become an alcoholic.

I love my job for many many reasons. 


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