One of the best things about working in education is getting to work with other teachers. Teachers are incredible people. I wouldn’t want to work alongside anybody else. So here are a few things the very best of my teacher acquaintances have taught me.
1. They’re not giving you a hard time; they’re having a hard time.
A head of year made me want to scream when this was the response to pretty much every concern I had about a pupil with ASD in his year group. But you know what? He was right. It’s not an excuse. It doesn’t mean that consequences are waivered for poor behaviour. It’s not a solution. But it helps me hugely: so often, it’s worse for them than it is for us. Humanity is everything.
2. Don’t be afraid to stand at the front.
As a new teacher, I wanted to be constantly in amongst the children. Supporting them, checking their work, pushing those who needed pushing. But so often, as soon as I would help one pupil, low level murmurs started bubbling up and the classroom would cease to be that bastion of calm and focus I wanted it to be. My amazing NQT mentor gave me a suggestion: just stand at the front. Be a positive, firm, supportive influence watching the pupils work incredibly hard. As an NQT, it was massively helpful. Nowadays it’s not needed quite so much, but I’m glad it was an early tool in my repertoire.
3. Listen to what kids say. Theorise it.
I took the PGCE route into teaching. It came with its drawbacks, but one of the things I valued in it was its relentless, chin-scratching theorising of learners. A child says something surprising: write it down, theorise it. A child misbehaves: think about why, theorise it. A lesson doesn’t go well: don’t despair! Consider it as of theoretical importance. My PGCE tutor claimed this was the only way to survive in teaching. According to him, if you don’t find young people fundamentally fascinating, you won’t last long in education. I think I agree with him. (It also helps retain that cool, detached academic approach when they are driving you wild).
4. Meet students where they are.
Occasionally I get The Panic. That feeling that whatever I do, they’ll never make it. It’s just too hard. They’ve got too far to go. They’re too angry/demotivated/poorly-behaved/struggling. The Panic makes me feel utterly useless. And what’s more, it doesn’t help anything. At this point, I remember the mantra of a hugely experienced recently-retired teacher: “Just meet them where they are”. She says it calmly and happily. Meet them where they are. Take everything else from there. Somehow, in remembering this, The Panic just floats away. Because there’s not a lot else we can do, is there?
5. Celebrate your colleagues.
I had the pleasure of working with Rachel for three years. I have never known anyone to celebrate the people around her quite so readily. She would recognise the things people were doing, the hard work, the lessons, the marking, the great cup of tea they made… and celebrate it, loudly and regularly. Her celebrations cut through any threat of mundanity and they made as happy. Now, I try to be more like Rachel.