Why Teaching Needs You – Teacher, YOU Matter! Advice on Becoming a Teacher!
Teachers are some of the most amazing people on the planet. After our parents, our teachers have the most impact on us, one so profound that we are almost certainly a product of what they have taught us. I would like to thank all the teachers I have ever known.
Can The Last Person To Leave Turn Out The Light?
And my favourite:
“I sort of just… fell into it.”
So many of the teachers that I have worked with don’t have a logical progression on how they came to do what they do. I too fall into this category. Yes, teaching does give me a steady income, it does have some opportunities for progression into management, if that’s what you want to do, and sometimes I get job satisfaction from imparting knowledge to my pupils… but none of those things are the reason i’m a teacher.
Very often teaching seems to happen to teachers. It is as though we are stumbling through our lives when a giant piano drops from the third floor window and slaps us with a shiny certificate of Education. Before we know it we are elbow-deep in marking, student targets and lesson plans.
However, I think that the spontaneity is part of the magic of the profession. There is method in the madness of becoming a teacher and it is a curious sort of madness indeed.
When a teacher takes that first leap into the unknown and embarks on a career of sharing knowledge, they are taking on a mammoth emotionally and intellectually demanding task which is not for the faint-hearted. This is why…
Teacher, YOU Matter!
It may sound trite or preachy… but it is most certainly true. Imagine every school, college, academy and University without its teachers. What would they be but empty buildings filled with milling leaderless minds, hungry for knowledge and thirsting for intellectual fulfilment?
The truth is that we human beings, although great at being taught are not so great at learning on our own. Even that wonderful skill, of being an ‘independent learner’ needs to be taught.
But why should you listen to anything I have to say?
Well, like you, I am a teacher.
I have been teaching in the post-compulsory sector in the United Kingdom for the last five years. I’m not a professional self-help guru, neither am I a psychiatrist. I am just a teacher sharing my own first-hand experiences in my field.
I started out wanting to be a writer, to entertain young adults with science-fiction and fantasy novels. However, I realised pretty early on that it wasn’t going to be easy to make a living from writing full time. After being turned down for a dozen studentships and receiving up to a hundred rejections from agents and publishers, I decided to do a teaching qualification. It couldn’t do any harm, I thought to myself, and besides, the government is going to give me a bursary to do it.
Teaching was never supposed to become ‘a real job’. However, quite soon after I began my teacher training I suffered through a series of setbacks: a death in the family, a chronic and debilitating illness and relationship troubles. These all combined to stop me writing for a number of years.
Suddenly my back-up job had become my only job.
It was then that I had to sit up and ask myself some pretty serious questions:
In answer to the first question I love the experience of creating. Most importantly, I enjoy interacting with readers and enjoying their feedback and the debate that can create. The answer to the second question was quite simply, to tell stories. I have always believed that stories are what make us human. They are vital for us. We use them to explain our most difficult concepts. In essence, they are what make us human.
The answer to the last question: ‘How Can I Make Myself Matter?’ was a little trickier. Working in the state sector has been certainly an education for me and I can’t deny that I do often feel like I matter.
A teacher is a person who has a massive impact on a young adult’s life. Whenever a student tells me that they enjoyed our lessons so much that they are doing English at University I am always a little taken aback. I think wow! Isn’t that wonderful? This lesson has given a student the impetus for their future career path.
A MILLION LITTLE PATHS
I imagine students wandering down a million little paths. Their teachers a sign posts pointing towards different directions.
But then there are LOT of times when I feel like I positively don’t matter; even though my teaching role is no longer my only role. I write fiction and non-fiction; I teach a range of subjects but there are a lot of things about the teaching profession which drag teachers down and make them feel unimportant, de-motivated, deflated, and worthless.
Often, in Teaching, trying to protect teachers is seen as being an ‘enemy of change’. It is clear that some people are worried that in focusing on teachers, we may be losing focus on students. But that just isn’t true. A happy teacher has always meant happy students. So have no fear because by trying to take back some of your own self-belief, you will become a better teacher and your students will feel the benefits too.
The National Union of Teachers put together a pretty alarming collection of quotations made by the British government about teachers on their website (www.teachers.org.uk). A few choice examples are here:
You may have heard quotes along these lines in the past few years, quotes which have contributed to a culture where teachers often feel like they don’t matter. And if they don’t matter then why should they bother? Why should they bother with the long hours, the daily attrition of classroom and staffroom politics, behaviour management and continually feeling like second-class citizens where they have to tiptoe around their students and managers?
Why should they stay at all? Wouldn’t they be happier if they left? They’re smart people; they can re-train and do something else…
And as quick as magic, another teacher leaves the profession forever.
This introduction is called ‘Can the Last Person to Leave Turn out the Light?’ because the rate at which teachers are leaving the profession altogether is the saddest predicament currently befalling students in the current education system.
Second-most disheartening is the fact that all these teachers have no clue how important they are or how much they matter. And they do. They are invaluable, they are brilliant, and they are the glue holding the entire system together: all their extra hours, their goodwill, their optimism and their self-reflection.
When I told my teacher-friends that I was writing this book and proceeded to ‘test it out’ on them, I was taken aback by how important they felt this message was, how much they needed to hear it. So it is now full of the advice that I have given and been given, on how to cope with a stressful working environment, while at the same time maintaining my sense of self and confidence.
For all of you who are reading this guide and have realised that you are struggling emotionally with your teaching career, you know that you need to make a change. Until now you may have been unsure as to how to go about making that happen, but you are ready to start taking charge of your teaching life.
I’m not promising that the change will happen overnight. Perhaps you will have to make some pretty radical changes to how you approach your career and where and how you work. Rest assured there will probably be a whole series of physical and mental snags to deter you. In your journey through this series of mini-guides you will become familiar with many exercises that will encourage you to think of teaching in a very different way.
You will learn to:
- emotionally manage your teaching day
- prioritise your own needs
- manage the toughest class
- get real joy from teaching
- watch out for warning signs of mental illness
- cope with the wear and tear in teaching life
- plan the future after your teaching life
- focus on your uniqueness as a teacher
- build up positivity in the face of negativity from others
- give the best of yourself at all times
- know how to celebrate the little victories
- put the teaching ‘failures’ into perspective
- focus on growth as a person as well as a teacher
As you read, highlight, underline, photocopy and printout sections which really ‘help’. This way you can find them and use them easily when stressful, ‘real life’ situations arise and put the exercises into practice. The more you do this, the more you will benefit from the guides and the more the exercises will become habitual.
Whether you have been teaching for twenty-five months or twenty-five days, it is natural for YOU to need support and the wonderful thing is that YOU have found an affirmation of how much YOU MATTER, how much the teaching profession NEEDS YOU and ultimately, what a wonderful resource YOU are for your students and colleagues.
In fact, I’m quite sure that you already know how remarkable YOU are. Everyone needs a little reminder once in a while. There is so much more of your potential waiting to be released and set in motion.
- Don’t be the last to leave.
- You are that light.
- Let it shine on.