I should perhaps explain that I never intended to be a teacher. My mum was an IT teacher for Further Education and, being a typical teenager, I wasn’t going to do anything my parents did.

But after years of day jobs to supplement my writing work, 30 loomed and I wanted to do something where I was helping people. An opportunity came up at the college my mum taught at to support adults with learning difficulties, so I jumped at the chance. Eventually I began teaching and after four years I became an IT teacher in the very classroom that my mum used to teach in. Talk about full circle!

But what did I know about teaching? I knew my subject and felt confident in it, perhaps too confident – but I had not taught anyone. Still it turned out that my years of theatre directing, sales, dealing with customers, training staff in the pub and the plethora of different people I had met would be that guiding stone to begin…

A Letter to My NQT Self

Dear Jon

Think about those shows you have sometimes watched that allegedly have a plot, but the more you follow them the less they seem to have had a full planned sequence of events. As though the producers make it up year after year, leaving you constantly baffled.

There is a danger your lesson can become like this.

In your head you know the activities you want to do; you know what you want to achieve, but does anyone else? It is important that you set out your story clearly- where is the natural journey? What will your characters (your learners) experience? What should they learn about themselves before they leave? How will it give them the growth that every good story needs? How do you make sure some characters don’t get more of the limelight than the others? If the story is clear in your head and on paper the learners will know the journey they are taking and have travelled- it also makes those fantastic ideas stand out on the page during observations.

But then, once your story’s how you want it, how do you engage your audience? How do you avoid it being that production that someone has been dragged along to and would rather be doing anything else?

If you think about it, the teachers you engaged with the most were the ones who didn’t talk down to you. Who were excited about their subject and didn’t take themselves too seriously. The ones you desperately wanted to listen to but in truth listened more than they spoke.

And what about that person in the pub or at a friendly meeting who knows everything? How long do you listen to them for?

Learners are similar. If someone talks for too long, they switch off if they feel it won’t benefit them or that they can’t contribute to discussions, or even if they feel undermined by the supposed wisdom of the speaker. The trick is not to enter as though you are the smartest person in the room- sure, you know your subject well, but each learner you meet is different and you have as much to learn from their way of life then they do of your subject knowledge. If you listen to them, about their hopes, dreams and interests you might find that when you try to teach your subject, a foreign language to them at this present time, you might find ways to translate it to make sense to them and help them understand it.

Make the learners know it is okay to fail too- remember your old tutor saying that ‘sorry’ was a banned word. If they feel comfortable in getting something wrong, that the classroom is a place to make mistakes then they will be braver and be able to succeed more. They will also be more likely to understand how they have succeeded so that when they leave the room, they can actually use it- especially if they know how it will help them in real life.

Best wishes

Jon Burrows

FE Tutor Academy Transformation Trust Further Education College (Sutton Campus)

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