Home > etmooc, Maths, Pedagogy, Teaching > The key to teaching?

The key to teaching?

Over this year I have had many people ask me for advice on teaching. These people ranged from colleagues (both NQTs and new to school), friends who were either starting teacher training or looking to start it and trainees who have come into school. Each time I was asked the big question “What’s the key to teaching?”

It is a rather annoying question in many ways, as there isn’t a key to teaching. If there was, then we would all manage to have outstanding lessons, with outstanding progress and outstanding behaviour every single lesson. In reality, there are so many factors affecting ever single minute of every single day that that is not impossible.

There are a few things though, that I think are highly important. Here are my top 3:

It’s not personal:

I think the ability to not take things personally is something we all need. Pupils may have come in in a foul mood due to something that has happened at home. This can happen to all of us, but for teenagers this can be particularly tricky as they have hormones racing and often can become over whelmed with emotions that come out in all sorts of ways. The pupil that calls you a name, or shouts “I hate you” when you ask them to do something may in fact be releasing a valve of emotions aimed at something or someone else. It can sometimes be hard, but we need to not hold these outbursts against pupils, as if we do we will be creating tension in future lessons which can affect the quality of those lessons and lead to further confrontation.

It’s hard work, but don’t break your back:

As teachers we put a lot of time and effort into our roles. Standing at the front of a class can be exhausting in itself, but the planning, marking, reflecting etc etc that we must do to be good at our jobs is vast. This is something people need to realise before they come into teaching. IT is a commitment they need to make and one they have to stick to. Planning and marking are equally as important as teaching, and if you aren’t prepared to work hard you won’t get anywhere. By this I don’t mean that all teachers have to put in 18 hours a day 7 days a week, this would be ridiculous and certainly would lead to a massive burnout both physically and mentally. Each person is different, and finding that “work-life balance” is essential. Different people work in different ways. I have colleagues who leave shortly after the bell and put a ton of work in at home, I know people that do a little each day but devote the majority of their Sunday to work and I know people who work solely at school. I know people who work in many different ways. At our school the Executive Principal hasn’t set hours where we must be onsite as many schools do. She trusts us as professionals to be able to manage our own workload and ensure it all gets done. This is an approach I welcome. On the whole, I do most of my work at school, staying most evenings until half five/six o’clock. I find I work better and smarter at school than I would at home and manage to do all I need to in that time. This gives me a few hours on an evening at home with my family and normally my weekends free. I worked out my weekly hours to be around 50 most weeks. I also pro-rata’d them over the course of the year, if I were in a job with normal holidays, and was interested to see that it was around 40, which is a normal working week in most professions.

Relationships are hugely important:

The things I think our most imperative to success are relationships, both with classes and with colleagues. With colleagues you get a support network, you have people who know what you’re going through, who can pick you up, and can give you advice when you need it. They are also a great source of ideas, resources and can be great help planning lessons. They are also the adults you will spend the most time around and as such a strong relationship and the ability to have a laugh is essential.
Relationships with students are also important. You need your relationship with you class to be clear, and defined. It needs to be a good one. They don’t need to like you, but it can be a great help if they do. They do need to respect you (and your authority), otherwise you won’t get anywhere with them. I am lucky in that I have managed to forge great relationships with the majority of my classes, and I find that this means behaviour is not a big problem for me day to day, despite the fact I have some real tough classes. During my NQT year I really struggled at times. There were a couple of classes that I couldn’t handle at first and it became a real battle. My NQT mentor was the then ASP in our department, and as part of a project called Developing a Pedagogy of Practice (DPP) I was assigned the (then) senior vice principal as an SLT mentor. Both of these mentors (and the vice principal in charge of staff development) were highly instrumental in me turning it around and becoming a teacher who is “consistently good or better”. The support I got was fantastic all round (but that’s a topic for a different blog). The reason I mention this now, is that I wanted to recall something that my mentor said in a meeting. She had recently been judged outstanding and was reflecting that she didn’t know what made her so outstanding. I had seen her teach many times and I said that it was just the way she is with classes. That her lessons were obviously outstanding from the get go. She turned this around and said, “That’s what you need to do, you need to find the way that you are in the classroom. You need to let your personality shine through.” I thought about this, and looked at the classes I had already built good relationships with and realised that they were the classes I had let more of my personality out in. They were the classes I knew better, and who knew me better. I made a conscious effort to be like that with all my classes and it got better. Even with the year 9 class I had that were really challenging across the board. There lessons went from 4 hours of misery to three and a bit hours of Maths! (I won’t lie, the last lesson on a Friday when they were ready for the weekend tended to degenerate half an hour from the end, even when he rest of the week had got better). It seems strange to say now, as I struggled so much for most of that year with them, but I really miss teaching them. I had that relationship by the end, and I often end up chatting to them at break and lunch.

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