A Survival Guide for Beginning Teachers


I am now in my 6th year of teaching, and it has been one hell of a roller coaster ride, and as much as I have enjoyed every bit of it (OK most bits), there are many things I wish I had known much earlier. So here is a compilation of little tips for beginning teachers, that could, in my humble opinion, perhaps make us enjoy our profession more.

1) Never invite students into your personal lives.

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When I was a beginning teacher, I made the mistake of having 2 mobile lines. One for my friends and family, and one for my students. I entertained questions and queries after work hours, sometimes as late as 10 or 11 pm, especially during exam periods. While this made it easier for the students to clarify their doubts, over the years, I found this exhausting, because I felt like I never got a chance to stop thinking about work. In this era of Facebook and Whatsapp, it is easy to get caught up in the convenience of  social media, but when I was in secondary school, we could only approach our teachers during school hours, and we managed perfectly fine, and I am sure our students can too.

2) Never strive for universal popularity.

Each year, we teach perhaps 200-300 students. These are teenagers who come from all walks of life, with a multitude of different experiences and expectations. One teacher can never be expected to meet all of these expectations, nor should that be a goal, for not all of these expectations are reasonable, or even acceptable. While criticisms are going to sting, and perhaps make yourself doubt your ability as a teacher, don’t take away anything from them, except constructive suggestions for improvements.

3) Make classroom management a priority.

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You can attend a whole bunch of courses on pedagogy, collaborative learning, incorporating ICT and so on and so forth, but if your students are not going to be focused and attentive during your lessons, that is hours and hours of lesson preparation time and effort wasted. More importantly, if learning does not take place, teaching has not taken place. Develop your own style of discipline and make it work for you. Always try to balance your rules and expectations with ensuring that there is a healthy teacher-student rapport. Never try to be their friend, because at the end of the day, you will always be their teacher.

4) Be compassionate towards the non-teaching staff in your school.

It could be the printing lady, the office admin staff, your lab assistants or the technicians. Be kind to them, for many a times, we would be unable to complete many of our tasks without their assistance. And sometimes, all they want is for someone to recognize their contributions to the completion of your tasks. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a friendly face to approach when you are stuck with some admin task or are late in submitting some important document.

5) Prepare your own resources

While there is a lot of emphasis on resource sharing these days, and while I don’t deny that saves us a lot of time, I think every teacher should go through the process of preparing teaching resources for every chapter in the syllabus at least once. This is because all of us have very different teaching styles, and using resources from someone else is just going to cramp our style. Also, you will never be as familiar with the ins and outs of a chapter unless you go through the process of preparing lesson materials for it, and think about how learning will take place. Alternatively, you could modify resources from others, but I find even that restricts your thought processes because you work within the confines of that existing lesson plan. Subsequently though, you could use resources from sharing networks and your colleagues.

6) Observe lessons

My learning curve has always been the steepest when I observe the lessons of my colleagues. Observing best practices and refining them to suit your needs helps you to become a better teacher, and exposes you to a variety of teaching methods that you would otherwise not be aware of. This doesn’t just apply for subject mastery, but classroom management strategies as well.

7) Never compromise on your work-life balance

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I think many of us agree that even if we spent 12 hours at work a day, from 7 am to 7 pm, we would still never be able to say I have finished all my work. Work never stops and it is very easy to end up spending all our evenings and weekends marking and preparing for lessons. I know of teachers who even spend their weekends coaching students outside of school. If you intend to be in the profession for long, this is a recipe for disaster, because eventually it is going to burn you out. I recently read this quote about teachers.

“A good teacher is a candle, consuming itself to light the way for others.”

The guy who came up with this quote ought to be set on fire, for forgetting something so very fundamental. A candle doesn’t last forever, nor does a teacher who doesn’t take care of him/herself. The profession has lost enough caring and passionate teachers to stress, and that needs to stop. I say be like a torch with rechargeable batteries. 😉

Feel free to add on to the list!

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