Advice for Beginning Teachers

I’ve had this inkling for a little while that I’d like to write something for beginning teachers. The problem is I don’t know what to say. I probably should have a fair idea – I’ve been teaching for over 10 years and I’m as high up the ladder (both in terms of rank and pay scale) as you can get before being classed as an administrator instead of an educator – but I don’t have a clue, so I going to wing it.


  1. Fake it til you make it (unless you don’t wanna).


See what I mean about not knowing what I want to say?


I guess what I’m putting out here is that teaching is like acting. Note that I’ve used a simile rather than a metaphor, so it’s not a strong comparison. Teaching is not acting in that you go into a class and pretend to be someone you’re not – kids see through that junk pretty quickly. But, we do find ourselves in a variety of positions where we don’t feel comfortable. These situations range from teaching subjects of which we have little to no knowledge to the death of students and other tragic circumstances. In some of these instances it really pays to put on a front and pretend that you know what you’re doing – the students are looking to you to guide them through and any chink in your armour is going to unnerve them. At other times students can be buoyed by frank admissions of uncertainty. If teachers could be replaced by robots it would have happened already; Khan Academy and other providers churn out hundreds of self-paced lessons students can follow. What young people really need, however, is humanity. That’s why you can’t be an actor the whole time you’re teaching. Instead, you just be the version of you that is needed at that time.


  1. Muscle, muscle, muscle, flex!


Thanks Terry Crews and Old Spice for the wording.


Muscle here refers to hard work and training. Teaching is hard work and, generally, only people within the profession have a true understanding of that. Yes, the official hours are short and the holidays look good on paper but there’s so much people don’t consider. As an English teacher my marking load is horrendous – a ‘small’ task might be a 500 word short story and, with up to 32 students in any given class, that’s potentially 16,000 words of nonsensical dribble, misspellings and poor punctuation. For ONE class. I teach four classes now but at one point I taught six. SIX.


Let’s not even talk about the fact that teachers try to educate up to 32 hormonal, disinterested, argumentative, lazy (and, for some of them, unmedicated) teenagers at a time when I’ve heard some parents complain about having to deal with their own 2-3 children.


As I said, it’s hard work.


There’s also mountains of policy and paperwork, planning and professional development that impact on a teacher’s time.


If muscle is in relation to work load, then flex is about flexibility.


I was actually asked recently what would be the best advice I could give a beginning teacher, I said this:


The best lesson you will ever give is the one where what you have on your lesson plan doesn’t/can’t work.


What I meant was multilayered. On one hand I was saying that sometimes even the best planned lessons fall apart and the reflection you do afterwards can be one of the most invaluable learning experiences for a teacher. On another hand I was saying that shit happens (the internet is down, the resources go missing, the kids are tired/hyperactive, your lesson is cut in half by a last minute assembly) and sometimes that can mean that what you had planned is no longer the best option for that class and you have to revert to plan B – which might not have even existed before you opened the door to let the kids in.


The best teachers are highly flexible; they can explain concepts a dozen different ways, they have a repertoire of activities and strategies for all occasions and they can teach effectively regardless of their physical environment – on that last point, my office consists of people who teach English in cramped little science labs and ‘retreats’ and who teach drama in classrooms and cafeterias; you make do with what you’ve got.


  1. It doesn’t suck to be you.


Honest. And, sure, this message already cropped up in point 1 but I’ve already admitted this isn’t a well thought out, formatted blog post.


Jim Henson said a lot of cool stuff. When you finish reading this you should Google some of his quotes. I’ll put two in this post just to get you started.


Anyway, if you’ve decided to be a teacher it’s because you have a particular masochistic desire demeanour. You are compassionate, enthusiastic, creative, dedicated, curious, humble, wise, connected, courageous and conscientious. So why hide this? Why hide who you are in a classroom?


I openly talk about my past, present and future. I geek out. I crack jokes. I talk footy. I’m honest. And I know this approach works.


Here’s part of a Facebook status from last week:


I ran into an ex-student today who proudly pointed me out to his workmates. He had a bad run last year (getting arrested twice) and has been in a few fights in his time but he was genuinely happy to see me. It was a good reminder of the sort of kids I got into teaching to help; I don’t deal with them as much now but I started in education with a desire to support the underdog.


Most of the comments attached to this, including one from my uncle, were about teachers who were personable and the lasting impact they have left. I’m pretty darn proud to be talked of like that and I hope to continue having a positive influence on people for years to come.


It’s probably also worth mentioning that being personable and friendly with students doesn’t mean being their friends. It’s also important that they know their boundaries.


  1. Rebel, rebel.



RIP David Bowie


Rita Pierson speaks to my heart in her TED talk and one of the things she says is, “we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway”.


You’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit. In an education sense, what you risk is the wrath of administrators/parents/colleagues/the department in order to get cream-centred, chocolate self-worth. Okay, maybe the metaphor didn’t quite work.


Anyone can administer a test. If all you get into teaching for is to measure a student up against marking criteria then you’re in the wrong job. The last part of my Facebook status above asked, “When did I stop caring if kids failed?” It’s a trick question – I never cared. Honestly, there are a truck load of things more important than marks. It was in my status because I felt like recently I’ve been letting students choose to disengage too easily as part of a greater good/majority rules approach to classroom management but if you look at it from another perspective then what I really want to ask is why grades are all some people care about.


The drop everything, spend a misguided fortune attitude to school is an administrator’s approach. Educators should realise that teaching to the test is not teaching at all. What are the students really learning? Sometimes you need to consider that a little rebellion goes a long way and building better people, as opposed to religiously following the curriculum, is one of those times where being a maverick is beneficial to everyone.


Wow. You stuck around for the post-credits scene like this is my very own Marvel movie.


So, I don’t know if I actually said anything of note. This was probably a rambling mess of loosely connected advice interspersed with self-promoting dribble. Let’s cut to the chase…


Here’s my goal… I want to make the world a better place by helping people be better versions of who they are when I first meet them.


Here’s what I want to tell beginning teachers… if you don’t love the job, the kids will smell it on you and eat you alive.




Here’s what I want to tell beginning teachers… the true impact you can have on this world is immeasurable and many of the kids who will be thankful for the influence you have on their lives will never tell you how important you are. Believe in yourself, be yourself and treat every students as though they can be someone special (because they already are special but they also need to be humble so don’t let them know it yet).

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