So you want to be a Teacher?
The truth is, most of us have no idea what kind of ride we’re in for, when we’re signing up for the profession.
The radio adverts promise us ‘to make a difference’ in the lives of our students, to do something meaningful, and to get a big, fat bursary or even a scholarship (I got one *brag*), if we choose to teach a shortage subject like a modern foreign language, or maybe maths. But what does a teacher’s daily life really look like?
I can tell you what it looks like in training: ROUGH.
There’s very little sleep, there’s an enormous amount of stress to get everything done, there might be issues with other staff, children, your personal life, parents, maybe university, if you’ve chosen the PGCE path. It is not a profession for the faint-hearted.
It also isn’t only about the school you end up teaching at. When I first started exploring the different schools and school systems in the UK, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the sheer amount of differences; it’s not only primary versus secondary, it’s community school, versus grammar school, versus faith school, versus international school, versus private school, versus public school, versus boarding school, versus special needs school, etc., etc. I could go on forever and haven’t even touched upon the individual traits of each of those different school forms. Every school has their own culture, and vibe to it. The dynamics are different, the children are different. Their backgrounds, their personalities, nationalities, upbringing, motivation, attitude, just all of it makes your experience as a teacher teaching them unique! And that’s part of the beauty of it. You never know what you’re in for until you’re in it, and even then, you need to decipher the code, and try to manage to somehow find your place, and fit in. You’ll have to make it work with your colleagues, your bosses, your students, their parents, basically everyone. If this sounds scary to you, you’re not alone. These things are indeed a little frightening, and let’s be honest here: things don’t always work out. You will make mistakes. Lots of them. If you’re lucky, you have a good support network around you that will comfort you, when you’re down and scared, and that you can talk to. But be aware that you will be making mistakes, and that these mistakes are part of the process, and that they will help you learn and grow into the profession. That said: sometimes things really, really don’t work out, and you might have to change school, and give it another go somewhere else, but that’s okay. Don’t give up yet, it’s only the beginning, and it will get easier with time. I was told to stick it out for at least a year, before dropping it. This is apparently how long it takes to actually establish whether you can survive in the profession, without losing the plot. I will admit here that I struggled a lot, and yet after one and a half years of teaching, the positives have outweighed the negatives, despite the tremendous failures, and I decided to not give up teaching yet. Let me give you my list of the whys that might help you through the dark times, and might put a little smile on your face when you need it:
- The training is bloody hard! (It’s not that it’s academically challenging, necessarily, it’s just so, so much at once!) So you don’t want to go through this to then just give up straight away.
- The holidays! They are so, so worth it (and you need and deserve every single one of them).
- The feeling of conquering the beast(s): once you’ve actually made your way into a students’ heart, you know it, and you feel it, and it’s an amazing feeling to actually receive your first smile / card / gift / positive comment from a student who might have been sceptical or dismissive towards you at first.
- Seeing progress: if you are the one who actually makes a difference to a child who all the others have already given up on, all your efforts are worth it, because you made them see the light at the end of the tunnel; and you might have ignited a spark in them to keep going, when before they’d given up.
- Making new friends: Teachers, generally speaking, are nice people who want to help others and are kind-hearted and understanding. I am glad I can call many of my (former) colleagues my friends, and it is important to have them to be able to talk about things that we might believe only we are struggling with (that’s hardly ever the case, you’re in it together, so you can comfort each other, when times are rough).
- School trips: yes, of course they are work, and they’re noisy, and you’ll have to work even harder, when you’re back, to catch up with all of this work, but you will also have the opportunity to see another side of your students, to show them another side of your own personality, and you can explore a new place together. See it as an opportunity to bond with your students, and get to know them a bit better. It is a lot easier to teach people if you know little things about them, and can show that you are interested in them as human beings.
- The feeling of accomplishment: You will never be done with everything as a teacher, because it is an endless spiral of never-ending work, HOWEVER: it is a killer feeling if you’ve managed to finally mark all of those books (make sure to read the post about book-marking, so you get the maximum out of this tedious task), or tests, and maybe even managed to plan all those lessons for the next day / the end of the week.
- Learning: Would we be teachers if we didn’t want our students to learn stuff that we think is important? Probably not. Whilst you are teaching, you are learning, too. You are investing in yourself and your growth as a person and as a teacher by reading up on your subject, staying up-to-date about recent developments, and becoming better at explaining concepts to your students. When I first started out, I was at an absolute loss as to how to explain German grammar to my students (despite being a German native speaker myself, or even because of it). I still wouldn’t claim to be great at it, but I have learned a lot by just having to do it on a regular basis, and it came naturally, and gradually.
- Staying young: it might sound corny, but being surrounded by children and teenagers keeps you young in the head and in the heart. Before I became a teacher, I hardly had any contact with children at all. I thought I wasn’t particularly interested in them either, but once I committed myself to teaching, I made an effort to get to know and understand them, the changes they go through, the hormonal adjustments, and empathise with the challenges they are facing on a daily basis. It’s not just us who are struggling. They have all of these things to deal with; stress and expectations at home, and need to then meet our demands. It is easy for us, as educators to forget that they might have another six or so other teachers who probably have equally high demands, and that can become very overwhelming. Now back to the point I was actually trying to make: being surrounded by young people will make it more difficult for you to age, because you will know exactly what’s currently trending, what’s hot and what’s not, and why ;).
- Making a mark in someone’s life: I left the cheesiest for last. You know how they say people won’t remember you for what you do, but for how you make them feel? It’s true. Think back to your own time as a student. Who do you remember teaching you, and why? Were you fortunate enough to be taught by kind teachers who wanted you to progress, and worked hard for you to achieve your goals, even if you didn’t notice it at the time, or do you remember that nasty piece of work teacher, who had angry wrinkles even when he smiled, because he was so bitter inside (I sure do). Be the teacher you looked up to as a student. Be that teacher who was kind and understanding to you, when you really needed it. Be the teacher who didn’t make you feel stupid for not knowing something. Be the teacher who gave you the feeling that you were enough, that you mattered, that what you said, felt, and thought mattered. Be the teacher that made you feel visible and valid. THIS is the teacher you want to be to your students. Even those who test you. Especially those who test you. Find that one thing that’s likeable about them and start every day afresh, forgetting all the bad history with them. It will make your life, and their life easier. I promise J.
On that note: Happy teaching! I hope these ten tips will keep you going for a while. Keep them somewhere visible, and have a little read, when you need them, because it’s easy to forget these things.
Have a lovely day, and don’t be too hard on yourself – or them.
- So please don’t forget to be kind, when setting homework. Maybe establish a plan, so that homework for your subject is always given on the same day. This establishes a routine, makes it harder to forget, and becomes ‘normal’.