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Inside Teaching : October 2010
Inside Teaching | October 2010 TEACHING TIPS 26 In my first few years of teaching I launched myself into coaching a number of extracurricular sporting teams and took up many opportunities to attend camps and excursions. I found that by interacting with my students beyond the classroom I gained valuable knowledge about them. My better understanding of their cultural and spiritual beliefs, their family situations and backgrounds, their likes and dislikes heavily influenced my daily teaching practice. As a beginning teacher, this knowledge made a huge difference to my class teaching. Now, as a head of department, catering for students and those students’ parents or caregivers at my school is a whole new ball game, but it can’t be denied that at any level or position in education, this understanding is critical. Tip 3 BE FAIR AND CONSISTENT Throughout my own schooling and life experiences before I became a teacher, it became obvious to those around me that I was often ruffled by injustice or unfairness. I knew it was fundamental to me as a beginning teacher that I should endeavour to embed ideals of fairness and justice in my classroom. Instilling values of fairness in a very challenging Year 9 class, though, is harder than it sounds. Being ‘fair’ in your dealings with students can mean so many different things: ensuring students are good sports when participating in physical activities; having clear rules so they know why they may find themselves in trouble; giving them opportunities to learn essential skills to achieve in the subject. You must assume as a beginning teacher that all students deserve a fair go, and all students want to learn regardless of the behaviours or levels of achievement they may show you on a weekly basis. I came to realise fairly quickly, that being fair in your dealings with students isn’t enough. As my father has told me many times in my first years of teaching, ‘You must be fair and consistent.’ I can now see that his 30-plus years in education were a valuable influence in my first few years of teaching, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. Every time I came home and told him about the woes of my difficult class he just repeated this same message and eventually – to my surprise, and his certainty – my challenging Year 9 class knew and respected me. I believe that the teachers who are most respected by students are those who are fair and consistent, and who quite often have been for many a semester. Tip 4 YOUR JOB IS TO TEACH, AND THEN SOME In only a few years of teaching, I found myself taking on coordination roles and soon enough a head of department position. I suspect such opportunities were offered to me because I was enthusiastic about taking on new tasks and roles through which I felt I could make an improvement of some kind for my students, my department or my school. In my first year, I found myself coaching and attempting to organise Year 7 weekly afternoon sport at my high school. I must admit, I experienced a steep learning curve as a teacher who was mainly concerned with surviving in the classroom. If I hadn’t had the help of a few individuals with prior involvement in this weekly afternoon sport, there would’ve been some very unhappy Year 7s. Later on, I was able to use the skills and knowledge I had gained from this experience to work in some whole-school coordination roles. It’s well worth taking on out- of-class duties for student and school improvement. Whether these be, say, curriculum writing, sports coordination or excursion preparation, don’t be afraid to try your hand at an open opportunity. Back yourself, but remember to ask for help from colleagues with expertise in that particular area. Tip 5 ASK FOR HELP My fifth tip for beginning teachers is closely related to the previous one. In every school you’ll find colleagues who have a wealth of knowledge and skills to help you in every facet of your practice. The trouble, however, is that your colleagues keep, develop and typically use their knowledge and skills for the benefit of the individuals they deal with directly. As a rule, though, I’ve found teachers want to help each other,