On the 28th January 2014 I walked into the classroom for the first time as an English and Humanities high school teacher. My first year as a teacher was one of the hardest years of my life, and yet the one that has shaped me the most.
I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences for a while, but have needed time and space to be able to really process it. Finally today I had a breakthrough when I realised there are 30 lessons that I have learnt as a teacher that I wanted to share.
1. When you're angry the quieter you make your voice, the more your students will fear you.
2. If your voice is going up in volume, walk away and deal with it tomorrow.
3. Don’t let the 10% of kids that are naughty get 90% of your attention.
4. Forty per cent of your behaviour management will be dealt with by your classroom layout, 30% can be corrected by a seating plan, 10% is in using mime gestures, and the rest by getting a good night’s sleep.
5. Even if you’re not a Maths teacher, you will need to learn percentage formulas for reports.
6. Apparently you can go to a happy place during meetings. I am yet to find it.
7. You will need a daily energy crutch. Make sure you are well stocked.
8. Only other teachers will find your work stories interesting.
9. Imagine hiking a mountain with bricks strapped to your feet. This is the equivalent of the exertion that a teacher experiences during report writing.
10. You will get sick—a lot. Eventually the viruses will leave you alone for fresh blood.
11. A school is like an organism.
12. Be careful when you use the term ‘my kids’ outside of a school because no one else will understand what you mean.
13. School holidays are not holidays. They are time to plan lessons and recover from the 60 hour weeks you have put in before that.
14. Do not smile in term 1. The sterner you are in term 1, the easier your year will be.
15. You will remember more than you forget, but you will always forget something.
16. Let the sentence ‘I need to vent’ be your saviour.
17. Find out who the school gossip is and only tell them good things about yourself and others.
18. Always remember that your desk is in an open plan office and learn to speak in a whisper.
19. Know that when you speak in a whisper you will attract company.
20. Students do not understand sarcasm.
21. Offer recalcitrant students a choice. For example: “I am going to walk away now and when I return I want you to have moved tables.”
22. Everyone knows what makes a good teacher, and those who aren’t teachers themselves are most vocal about it.
23. You do not know everything and your students know this. The sooner that you confess this fact, the better your classroom will be.
24. Even though every day is exactly the same, you will not have exactly the same day.
25. You might have the opportunity to teach the exact same lesson to another class, but you will have a completely different experience.
26. If you have bad handwriting, use PowerPoint for all your lessons.
27. Even if you are feeling indecisive, act decisively.
28. You will utilise Newspeak on a day-to-day basis outside of the classroom.
29. Being in the classroom is the easiest job in the world—the hard work begins when you leave it.
30. Being a teacher is the best job I’ve ever had and the one I am most proud of. I know I am doing something important, because my students are important.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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