Saturday, February 04, 2006

'Don't smile before Christmas' and other useless advice to NQTs

I was visting 'The Teacher's very honest and engaging blog about his experiences as an NQT. He started, like I did, trying to go the 'Don't Smile Before Christmas' route. Can I just say that this famous piece of advice is rubbish? My teaching style, like most of my most respected colleagues, is 99% enthusiasm. It is very hard to rave about your subject, be it physics, philosophy or painting, if you are trying not to smile. I would be fierce and blank-faced for about 3 minutes, and then break into an irrespressible grin once I started explaining the day's topic.

So here is my alternative advice for NQTs, admittedly first draft:

1) Develop healthy self-esteem. Despite what the government says, it may not be entirely your fault the kids didn't learn anything today.

2) As far as humanly possible, never talk if your pupils are talking. Cultivate the mental conviction that everything that comes out of your mouth is a pearl of pure wisdom and they should damn well listen to it.

3) Following on from 2), don't wind your class up by going on and on and on. Know when to shut up. When you've told them to read the book, answer the questions, copy off the board... let them get on with it.

4) Carry a really big bunch of keys and (if your college/school permits it) a large mug of coffee or tea at all times. The keys say 'I run this place, not you.' The coffee says 'And I am quite comfortable here, thankyou.'

5) Learn the basics of body language and voice projection. Ask someone to watch you and be ruthless about your verbal and physical tics. Work out the best place to stand in the room and find out if you are loud enough and clear enough. Try asking a friendly drama teacher. (As a general rule, drama teachers know the secrets of the universe. Be nice to them.)

6) There is nothing wrong with an OK lesson. You can't teach a fantastic, grade 1, all singing, all dancing lesson every time. Kids need to learn that life is sometimes quite mediocre.

7) Don't worry overmuch about how much respect you are getting from your top two classes. They'll be gone a couple of years and they will never really treat you as you deserve because they've been in the school longer than you have. Concentrate on the lower classes. Then, when they get to the top of the school, they will still carry with them, deep inside, the way they felt when they first had you in Year 7.

8) Use every single support and advice system available to you. That's what they are there for.

9) Watch as many different teachers as you can - but don't try and be someone you're not. I spent six months unsuccessfully modeling my classroom management on a tough, ruthlessly efficient, quietly stern man I really respected - until I found a spontaneous, witty, clever, persuasive and canny woman to copy instead.

10) When dealing with bad behaviour, as far as humanly possible, divide and conquer; think before you speak; never humiliate anyone in front of their peers (there are plenty of kids who would rather be expelled than take their hat off when told to in front of their mates); and remember whenever possible that they are the teenagers and you are the adult!

Above all, remember we are teachers. We are supposed to believe that you can learn things. Even how to be a better teacher.

P.S. Many very, very wise and brilliant teachers taught me all these things. Unfortunately, I can't credit any of them because this blog is anonymous. So if you see yourself here, smile. Either you taught me this, or you taught someone who taught someone who taught me this. Whatever, I salute you.


The Teacher said...

Thank you so much for that posting. At the end of the day, only another teacher will understand what I'm going through right now.

Great blog BTW!

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