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Inside Teaching : October 2010
www.atra.edu.au | email@example.com TEACHING TIPS 25 Back in 2009, a colleague with whom I’d worked since I began teaching nominated me for an excellence in beginning to teach award. I can hardly say I was confident about the idea, but a few months after the nominations closed I heard I’d been named as a finalist. I thanked all my colleagues who’d contributed testimonials to the nomination, which really was the best possible acknowledgement I could hope for, and looked forward to attending the awards ceremony, to see which of the other finalists would win. To my astonishment, it turned out to be me. My colleagues and principal, and my family were confident that I was a serious contender, but not me. I suspect my colleagues on the short list and all those impressive colleagues who’d been nominated felt the same lack of confidence. My lack of confidence in myself got me thinking. We teachers have a lack of confidence in ourselves that, I think, relates to the fact that we’re rarely acknowledged in our work, which brings me to my first tip for beginning teachers. Tip 1 HANG IN THERE, AND ACCEPT WHATEVER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT COMES YOUR WAY It would be nice if our employers, colleagues or students and their parents or caregivers always thanked and recognised us, but there’s no financial bonus for ensuring your whole class achieves a pass level; there’s no daily, ‘Thanks Miss, that was a great lesson,’ even if it took you two hours to plan and prepare; your inbox is not filled with emails from parents or caregivers saying their child is energised by your teaching, and progressing in leaps and bounds. I’ve learnt that teaching is often thankless work, and you must have extremely high levels of resilience and persistence to make it through. It’s through your relentless hard work as a beginning teacher to plan, prepare and research so that you’re on par with your more experienced colleagues that you’ll establish a strong foundation for teaching in your subject area. In these beginning years, there will be times when the growth shown by your students brings you satisfaction and hopefully leaves you with enthusiasm for a future in education. When you are acknowledged by your peers or students, though, even in small ways, you should take a moment to reflect on what you’ve achieved. Every act of acknowledgement, even and maybe especially the very small one, is worth its weight in gold, so enjoy it when it happens, but remember that getting acknowledgement from people is exactly like getting gold from the ground. Tip 2 GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS, AND THEIR PARENTS OR CAREGIVERS It’s important for beginning teachers to get to know their students and their students’ parents or caregivers. I completed most of my primary schooling in small state schools in country Queensland, and after my family moved to Brisbane I attended an independent all-girls school. Although I felt I’d experienced diversity in my own schooling, I came to realise in my first year of teaching that my own experience of schooling was a world away from the students I was to work with, and so were my beliefs about schooling. I hadn’t even heard of the suburb where my school was located. Not only was my first school placement a world away to me geographically, but so were the issues for my students. My greatest problems as a high school student revolved around ensuring I had the right colour ribbon in my hair and balancing as many extracurricular activities as possible. Some students that I taught in my first year classes were balancing full-time study with part-time work to pay family bills, or studying while caring for ill parents. I was previously unaware of the complex challenges that many students face and was unprepared to accommodate these students. Teachers in the early stages of their career face myriad challenges, and opportunities, as award-winning Queensland teacher SANDRA QUINN well knows.