Teaching is easy: a few tips for new teachers

It’s nearly September, which means I can’t resist writing a back-to-school post. I thought I’d aim this one at new teachers — ECTs and trainees — not because there won’t be plenty of advice out there already, but precisely because there already is.

Teaching is easy: a few tips for new teachers
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

It’s nearly September, which means I can’t resist writing a back-to-school post. I thought I’d aim this one at new teachers — ECTs and trainees — not because there won’t be plenty of advice out there already, but precisely because there already is. This post is written for the new teacher who already feels overwhelmed by the complexities of teaching.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to worry, because teaching is easy.

Your job is to teach the subject well

It’s easy to forget this. If you’re a Physics teacher, you need to make sure you know loads about Physics. If you’re a PE teacher, you need to make sure the students are kicking and throwing things properly. If you teach English, you’d better know your texts really well, plus ways to talk about their meanings. Subject knowledge is important. Spend time getting to know your subject really well. Read widely. Think deeply.

What do you want students to remember?

Students will remember what they think about. If you use shadow puppets to teach quadratic equations, they’ll remember that you used shadow puppets. Better to put the learning front and centre, unadorned. You don’t need to make the subject interesting; it is already interesting. You might make it boring, but it is interesting by default. This shift in thinking will save you time and energy. You don’t need lots of activities. You need to know your stuff and get students to think about that stuff. How? You tell them. They work with what you’ve told them. Question them, test them. Get them thinking lots and lots about what you want them to learn.

One thing at a time

It’s easy to throw everything at a lesson, especially if you’re being observed all the time. But resist the urge; memory and attention are in short supply. It’s much better to really work at and nail one thing than attempt lots of them. If you need a lesson on commas, do it. And don’t move on if students don’t get it. Knowing that they don’t is important. Stop, think, regroup, and teach it again.

Show them everything

Students will find it much easier to do things if they see them being done in front of them. This type of modelling is daunting, but you should get stuck in early. Static models — ones you made earlier — can be useful, but in my experience seeing the process benefits students more. If you want them to be able to do it, slowly and methodically show them you doing it yourself. And talk about what you’re thinking about as you do it. Modelling your thought processes is vital, because students won’t then just imitate — they’ll do for themselves, understanding how and why.

Once is not enough

Students forget things. So do you. So do I.
Don’t assume something is learned forever because you’ve taught it.

Your voice is powerful

See this post. It contains my thoughts on how best to use one’s voice in the classroom.

It’s your house

Behaviour and classroom management worries new teachers. Here are a few pointers:

  • Be very clear about what you want. If you want the lesson to start in silence, say so, practice it and address it when it doesn’t happen. It takes effort; the effort is worth it.
  • Don’t make deals or bargain with students; don’t reward good behaviour.
  • Praise of the self (or indeed any feedback thus directed) is pointless — avoid saying things like, ‘You’re a really well-behaved student.’ React to what students do. One can change one’s later actions. One can’t change the core of who one is.
  • You’ll mess up. Accept it. If you need to, address it and move on.
  • “But, Mr X lets us …!’ Say, “I’ll check,” and then do what you normally do.

Don’t wait until you’re a ‘better teacher’

Don’t wait until you’re a better teacher to use the visualiser, or to try a particular style of questioning. Do it now. It’ll go better than you thought, but there will be things to work on. Think about them and be better next time.

Teaching is easy

It isn’t. But it also is. Stripped back, all you’ve got to do is take what’s in your head and get it into someone else’s head. Do this carefully, thinking about what you’re doing. Simple and slow is better than fast and complicated. Let your subject breathe. You teach it because it’s fun and because you actually like it.

I love teaching, and I hope you’ll love it too.

Have fun, and get in touch on Twitter @curtaindsleep if this post hasn’t put you off.