5 things I should’ve been told when I was a rookie teacher

Fashion Junkies

Being a DoS is rather fun, especially if you like organising stuff, promoting changes (provided you have willing co-teachers, of course) and introducing new ideas. I’m fortunate to have colleagues who are always ready to listen to my wildest ideas and discuss them – and for this I thank you, guys! As with any job, DoSsing has its brighter and darker moments (they’re usually connected with observing lessons, something which I find the most emotional aspect of my job), but the thing I’ve always wanted to focus on is teacher training.

Now, I want to be a proper teacher trainer someday – attending conferences and travelling around the world being a Yoda to new padawans (I’m only 153 cm tall, so the role suits me). Seriously, that’s my plan for the future. Meanwhile, though, I learn and allow my fellow teachers to teach me how to train them. It’s slightly complex, I know, but you get the gist. Anyhow, being a DoS means also recruiting new teachers, and then training them to meet up the standards of our school – and this inspires me to share 5 things someone should’ve told me when I started teaching years ago.

Someone should have – but I had no DoS, and even though teaching runs in my blood, there are some things I had to discover by myself:

1 Get organised

Contrary to what some people might say I’m not anankastic, but I do appreciate when everything is in order. I’m not planning to encourage you to join me in my orderly madness, but I’ve found out that organising classes may be extremely helpful. I wrote about lesson planning and how important it is for me, but I want to emphasise one thing: improvisation in teaching is unavoidable, however our students need to know where they are (with regards to the course and their general development) and what they may expect next. Creating syllabus for my course and preparing smaller chunks beforehand gives me possibility of improvisation within frameworks in which my students feel comfortable. If I bring in a game or a project, if we start to discuss a new topic, they may be sure it will come useful later on. Also: organisation is vital when it comes to explaining grammar. Many lessons have I observed where this particular area was rather neglected.

2 Atmosphere is key

That is true not only regarding private language schools – most people (kids and adults alike) don’t like studying, but they like having fun. You won’t be able to put irregular verbs in their heads with a shovel – but you may create atmosphere in which they’ll find the task less tedious. Everyone who’s ever worked with children knows they don’t learn because they like it – they learn because they like their teacher and want to please her. Surprise, surprise: that’s the general truth. When people feel comfortable in the classroom, they associate learning with positive thinking and they actually feel like learning.

3 Teach, don’t preach

Now, here we may spot the difference between schools and private language educational sites – in the latter you don’t have to moralise your students. It may be quite difficult, especially when you’re teaching teenagers, but try to cut off pieces of advice that are really unasked for, like “if you don’t do your homework regularly you will have problems in the future” or “how can you expect good results if you’re always late?”. I mean, everyone knows that, it’s been repeated by everyone and hasn’t changed anything – so why annoy people with those comments? I’m not even talking about criticising someone’s opinions, because I firmly believe we may only refer to the way someone expresses themselves (“I don’t think you should use such a strong word”) but not the idea itself (“So you think women should stay at home and take care of family instead of working? Well, I don’t really agree with this, but it’s your opinion, right”).

4 Keep your distance

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally” – Miguel Ruiz

Sometimes students laugh behind your back. Made a slip of the tongue? Yup, they’ve noticed it. Freudian slip and blushing? Even worse, I know, but hey – the only thing you may do is, simply, getting over it. My very first lesson (teaching practice as a uni student) included me teaching  a question: what time it is? for a good 3 minutes before I realised something was wrong… oh, right, syntax! It was 15 years ago and I still remember this feeling… But now I’ve got enough chill to smile over it. Made a slip of the tongue? – I do a proper facepalm and shake head over my own carelessness. When it comes to Freudian slips I usually ignore them. The rule is simple: if you laugh at yourself first, you save yourself the embarrassment when your students laugh at you.

5 Don’t sweat it

I remember how emotional I was over my teaching, my students, their tests, their issues, other teachers, my principal, my students’ parents, their opinions, their views, personal dramas and oh, so professional “You should have done this instead of what you did” – and worse, how I wanted to please them all… My advice is: chill. Talk it over with someone (like your DoS, that’s what they’re for!) and they’ll probably tell you this: even if you’re a super-organised, extremely friendly and absolutely communicative person with impeccable language and interpersonal skills, there will always be some negative opinions about you. So take it easy, do your job and aim to do better – but for your own sake, and not because you want your student’s papa appreciate you.

Now, that’s all from me – but if you are a teacher, maybe you have some good ideas I might share with my own rookie teachers?

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