What Do You Wish You’d Known When You Started Teaching ?
Another year has come and gone! As I wrap up another year in the classroom, I’ve been reflecting on what I know now, and what I wish I had known when I started teaching nearly 8 years ago. After working with students of all ages, and teaching a wide variety of subjects from IELTS prep to Science 10, I’m still by no means an expert.
There is definitely A LOT to learn.
Reflecting on Mary’s classroom activities post from last week, I do feel like I’ve learned a few things, though. I’ve created a list of the five things (in no particular order) I wish I had known when I started teaching:
1. It’s Not About You
As new teachers (and experienced teachers) we all have those days. We all have those students. When coming into class gives you a bad feeling in your stomach. But, 9 times out of 10, poor behaviour isn’t about you. The students may not want to be in your class, the expectations of the course don’t match student ability or interest, or the students might just be having a bad day (or month).
It’s hard when you don’t think people like you – but once you take the “you” out of the equation, you can look objectively at solving the problem.
2. Prioritise Actual Learning:
Often the learning outcomes can seem insurmountable, and sometimes they are. Focus on what student achievement will realistically look like – do they need to be able to use their English skills to pass a citizenship test? Do they need to know the pertinent vocabulary for Science 10? Figure out the essentials, assess out what is achievable and then make your lesson plans. If your students are picking up something useful there is effective learning in your classroom.
3. Count to 10
All lessons, days, courses and terms will eventually end. The students will change, your attitude will change, and whatever is happening in the present will pass. If you can learn from the hard things, the hard things won’t be as difficult the next time around.
Personal Anecdote: While teaching in Turkey, I had a run of “challenging” courses. I once handed out worksheets to students, and they actually lit them on fire. I don’t think it was necessarily on purpose – they were just playing with cigarette lighters – but still. I had to leave the room more than once to count to 10. But at the end of the course I was a more patient teacher. I also planned my lessons better and geared more to the needs and personalities of my students which in that case meant fewer worksheets and more “active” activities. At the time I did not view the experience as positive what-so-ever, but now I’m glad I’ve had those more difficult experiences.
4. Leave it at the Door
Just as you would like your students to leave their bad day at the door – you need to leave your bad day behind you too.
If you can view your classroom as an learning enclave, it is easier for other people to do so. The classroom can and should be a place we can make mistakes, feel safe, laugh and work together.
5. If you are interested, students can be interested.
There is nothing worse than someone droning on about a topic that is not interesting. There are few things worse than teaching from a dry grammar text. If you, as a teacher, can find your passion around a subject – it is much easier for students to find theirs. We are living in a time with access to infinite teaching resources, it’s just a matter of accessing them and making them work for your students.
Many students are interested in keeping up with current events, and this has become something I am personally interested in. Current events issues are great for starting discussions, practicing vocabulary and working in a grammar point or two . A lot of my resources are taken from BBC Learning English or Voice of America, as I prefer to use materials that help to facilitate the transition from adapted materials to mainstream newspapers, novels and television.
The best teachers I ever had were those that always seemed to be interested in learning. So, what about you? Are there any things you wish you could go back and tell yourself as a beginning teacher?