You’re about to embark on the biggest journey of your life, one that will be full of excitement, frustration, jubilation and, if I’m honest, probably too much chocolate. You’re a teacher now.
It’s September 1994. You’re in ‘your’ classroom; the one that you’ve spent all last week arranging, rearranging, improving and making it look the way you want. I’m writing to you from what probably seems like the distant future: 2020. So much has changed in education and in the world around us. The way you are working now, with your blackboard and your chalk, is not the way I work. Your brand-new Acorn A3000 computer won’t stay cutting edge for ever. I remember your first classroom. I can still picture the layout; where the children sat, the optimal position for the book corner, the wonderful view over the school field. You will spend many hours in that classroom. It’s where you will develop minds and teach skills that will last a lifetime. 26 years on, you will still remember those children. Some of them will still remember you.
So much has changed over the last 26 years, but much is still the same. Children are still children. They still need adult help to handle the challenges of learning and the challenges of growing up. They still rely on those adult role models to guide them on their journey through school. Your role in developing their knowledge, skills and values, be they academic, social or personal must never be understated.
You will be lucky enough to work with some amazing teachers. You will watch them in the classroom and be envious of the way their mere presence in the room seems to ensure that children achieve. You will second guess your own teaching and think that if you only did what they are doing, you would be a better teacher. This isn’t true. You are you; you are not a clone of someone else. Borrow ideas from others by all means; try them out; see how they work for you. Build these ideas into a jigsaw of success that you can use. Never forget that these teachers became experts in their craft through constantly trying out ideas; filtering the successful idea from the one that bombed; gradually building up a toolkit of successful techniques. Learn from them, but never copy them.
As you work through your career, you will soon find that there is an ever-changing procession of fashions and fads. What you teach, and the way you teach, will change, often annually. Each year, there will be something that will be announced as the tool to fix everything; a new strategy, an improved technique or a revolutionary philosophy that will set the world of education alight. You will probably leap at every one of these because you want to be the best teacher you can be. Be cautious. Don’t be resistant to change but examine each new idea carefully. Think about it; review the pros and cons; discuss it with colleagues. Following every new idea will not make you a better teacher. There is not a tick-list of things that you must do to improve. Use each day as a learning experience, evaluating your lessons, looking for the strategies that work. When new ideas head your way, trust your instinct.
The biggest change you will see is that of technology. It will sweep through schools, with glossy brochures promising the world, if only your school buys the latest hardware, IWB, tablet, VLE…… You won’t recognise all those terms yet, but you will in time. Some technology will prove to be invaluable. The internet is great, VLEs less so. Smartboards don’t revolutionise teaching, but they do provide a medium for visually engaging lessons. Where technology enhances your lessons, use it. If the technology ends up being more important than the learning, then turn it off. Whatever you do; when you hear about Twitter, jump straight in and become an early adopter.
Lessons won’t always go the way you had hoped. You will have times when you look around your classroom questioning your own ability, wondering what happened to make the lesson go so wrong. After all, you planned it well, you even checked it with more experienced colleagues. Don’t let it get you down. It happens to everyone, even those colleagues you look up to. Go and talk to them. They may well have some advice that you can use to make it better next time. Tomorrow is a new day and every lesson is a new start. As we tell the children, FAIL is just First Attempt In Learning.
Teaching is an incredible job. It’s so rewarding, but it’s never finished. There is always more to do, and it can be easy to push yourself too fast, too quickly. Take time to read around education, to research topics that interest you, to develop your own understanding of teaching. Make the most of every opportunity you get and remember; you can do this.
Assistant Principal at Great Heath Academy