Having gained my degree in Paleoecology the world was my oyster! My peers had taken the decision to either find the funding for a masters or volunteer for the limited number of environmental charities that existed at the end of the 80’s. I on the other hand needed a job that had a wage at the end of the month so off I went to do a PGCE. Not the usual story of lifelong ambition and an unwavering desire to address social inequity!
However, some 30 plus years in and around teaching here are my top three observations of one of the most challenging, underrated, and yet often deeply rewarding professions you could go into. There's a lot you can learn from trying to teach a room full of students on a wet February afternoon as the darkness descends across the school and the rain begins to fall. Here are some of the biggest lessons I learned and am still applying today.
1. Communication is key!
It's funny how easy it is to take basic things we learned long ago for granted—and how hard it is to communicate with others so you're all on the same page. I remember a lesson I did on Central Business Districts that failed miserably because fundamentally the class couldn’t didn’t understand the three key words — a basic thing I mistakenly assumed everyone already knew. Perhaps the most important strategy when teaching—and communicating in general—is to assume the audience (or reader or person you're sitting next to) knows nothing, but also, at the same time, never underestimate their intelligence.
Similarly, when 30 children didn't understand my lesson, it was really my problem, not theirs. That taught me to look for the little details that I might be forgetting, and to try to look at things from the audience's perspective rather than mine. And even when I think I've communicated something clearly, I need to follow up and make sure I actually did.
2. Feedback fuels self-reflection
I hated those times when I was teaching and my Local Authority Subject Specialist or the Headteacher would be sitting in the back, taking notes. As awkward as criticism can be though, being critiqued is often the best way to grow. Feedback provided me with the triggers to reflect on what I was good at (responding to the class) and what I needed to work on (timing). It's hard to see yourself as others do, but crucial if you want to improve your work and relationships.
When you get your appraisal reviews, try not to think of it as negative criticism. With or without formal reviews, ask for feedback regularly on your work, everyone who has entered your classroom will have made some kind of observation be brave and ask for it.
3. Just go with the flow – Children aren’t rivets!
Schools don’t take in the same raw material and the produce a standardized product at the end, we deal in human beings who are shaped by a never-ending series of relational transactions throughout the day. Things don’t always go as planned when you're dealing with dozens of children —and that's fine. Classes take shapes of their own, thanks to the energy, creativity, and differing opinions of the students. I believe that's the way it should be. Being in that kind of environment taught me how to be more flexible and relinquish control when trying to lead others, as well as how to try to keep people on topic. Basically, things every manager, person who's trying to chair a meeting with a meaningful outcome and parent has to learn.
Teaching is a juggling act, it is a profession where you learn something new through every interaction that you have with the children in your academy. Teaching is not a one-way process, the more you do it the more you learn!