I recently had the frankly terrifying honour of addressing two groups of prospective teacher trainees to give a student’s perspective on the decision they were deliberating upon – is teacher training for me? I only had about two minutes to speak (I took seven both times…no-one should be surprised!), and so I thought I’d share my advice, as I’ve taken to doing since I turned the grand old age of…twenty-seven, to them here! Instead of sharing information about the course, which others did more than adequately, I chose rather to address them, both as professionals and as people. My advice was lifted from the final three points of my personal mission statement, written as I reflected on Stephen Covey’s excellent and life-changing book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. From this point on I will write as if to those of you who are considering starting a training course, and I’d love to see advice at the bottom or on twitter if more seasoned professionals think I’ve missed anything essential!I will work with integrity and strive for excellence
- I will work with integrity and strive for excellence
The first thing you need to know is that the second you start your teacher training course you are treated as a professional. The same Teachers’ Standards that teachers are held accountable to are used to assess you. You are observed, you have notes taken on the impact you have in the classroom and you are expected to reflect seriously on your words, actions and decisions whilst teaching at first unfamiliar children. Add to that the joys of two fairly intense masters-level assignments drawing upon on your teaching and a presentation on a professional issue, and you can start to see why you are told to think very carefully about your application! Some people are so organised that I imagine when they walk into a room they see it with gridlines in their vision, or some terminator/dalek character but with ‘organise’ instead of ‘exterminate’. And some of you are like me, in that people can tell when you’ve set your mind to sort or organise something by the fact that when you’re finished nothing of any importance is ever seen again… If you sit with me in this latter group, you will need to make a conscious effort to ‘strive for excellence’ in this regard! Covey’s book was instrumental in getting me to the point where I can at least imagine becoming as organised as I desire to!
However, by embarking on this course and, by extension, entering the teaching community, you have given yourself an incredible opportunity to make a difference. I am a firm believer that we all have been given certain talents and interests for a purpose (cliché claxon…). Especially in the Primary setting, it is impossible for everybody to be an expert in everything, and whilst we aim to teach everything with enthusiasm and pizazz (never tried to spell that before…), we obviously have a greater natural enthusiasm for some things than others. Through starting a teacher training course I have had some fantastic opportunities to connect with experts in the field of one of my passions – reading! @MrBReading was born Christmas 2016 and I like to think that he is still at that adorable, big-eyed, curious baby phase, and this blog began on 31st January. I have connected with some fantastic people both in person and on that there interweb, and I encourage you to work out what your passion is that you can bring to the teaching world and, most importantly, to the children in the schools where you will one day teach. The last thing children need in this world of cheap, mass-production is teachers who have all been churned out to be exactly the same. Find your professional passion and go for it!
- I will nurture my interests and talents
I guess this is kind of like a bridge between the professional and the personal. I’ve already advised you to nurture your interests and talents in the professional sphere, so is this another example of that famous ‘Mr B’ organisation? Thankfully no. For as much as your children, and you, will reap the rewards of your professional interests, they, and you again, will also benefit hugely from the skills and interests that make you… you! If my first piece of advice was ‘get a professional vision’, then my second is ‘get a hobby’. I mentioned in a previous post that losing oneself in a story is a uniquely human experience. Whilst animals do enjoy some toys and games over others, I would argue that the sense of joy you can get from finding, experiencing and enjoying a hobby is just as uniquely human as finding joy in the pages of a good book. The #teacher5aday thread on Twitter is full of teachers who have realised the simple truth that a burned-out teacher is no good to anyone! I promise you, even as someone only halfway through their training, that if you become so professional that you lose the personal, you will fail as a teacher (and as a friend, family member and fiancé too for that matter!). For me, this looks like: re-joining a gospel choir (representing the world’s greatest university in a few weeks’ time!); serving as a youth worker in my local church community; playing snooker badly (all 5ft 6inches of me); reading (obviously!) for pleasure and to further my interests in history; writing this entirely unimpressive little blog thing; and, of course, spending time with my beautiful fiancée (also a teacher and still going strong 18 months in!). For you that list will be completely different. And that’s why teaching can never, and must never, lose the personal touch. If we have 300 completely different children entering our school, the least we can offer is 30 completely different staff members to support and help them to grow and excel!
- I know my limits and ring-fence rest
This right here is the toughie. Teaching is hard. I’ve heard that everybody receives one promotion too many in life, as if they were good at their jobs they would have gotten promoted again… I’m sure it isn’t true, but what this illustrates is that teaching, the well-documented workload and the progression up the career ladder, can take over your life. Without unnecessarily giving credence to national stereotypes (we’re all different, remember!), Brits traditionally find it very difficult to say ‘no’ to somebody (jolly poor form!). If teaching is going to prosper, and if you (and me, and every teacher out there!) are going to thrive, we must know our personal limits and put aside time for rest. How that works itself out will depend both on the leadership of the school and on your own needs, but if we are all holding to that first ‘mission statement’, then we must also be able to serve ourselves and our needs with integrity, both for our sake and the sake of the children entrusted to us.
I believe that I am entering one of the most difficult, yet rewarding (where DID I put that cliché klaxon?) jobs open to a person. As a Teaching Assistant for four years and a trainee for a few months I can say that this cliché really does ring true. I hope that by following my own advice, I can achieve wonderful things for the children under my direction, and if there is a nugget or two you can take from what I’ve said, that’s even better!
Please do leave comments/share – no doubt I’ve missed a lot but hopefully, to quote an English tutor of mine, I am ‘adding to the stew’ of well-being word of wisdom in some small way.