Top 10: Things a teacher has to be (in addition to being a teacher)
Whether you like it or not, whether you want it happen or not, those kids will look at you and respond to you as some kind of parental figure. For better or for worse. It’s a numbers game I reckon. You see them so much, with so much regularity and spend so long telling them what to do, that the only logical response for these kids is to see you as some kind of surrogate parent. Hence why they can feel justified in moaning/ sighing/ yelling/ ignoring/ sulking/ delete as appropriate at you – it’s just how they treat their parents. Nothing personal.
Lessons are interesting things. And children are interesting creatures. A lot of my time at school is spent not regaling young scholars with my insights and moulding the minds of the future, but rather mediating between the many and varied spats that flare up in an average school day. You know, over important issues such as Whose Pen That Is, Why Doesn’t He Have To Collect The Books, She Started It, and He Cussed My Mum. My negotiation schools are now so on point that I’m fairly certain I can put ‘hostage situation diffuser’ on my CV. Goes with the territory.
No-one even remotely warned me how organised I would have to be if I was to have even the slimmest chance of ‘making it’ as a teacher, and thank god there’s a small part of me that suffers from OCD. I am woefully disorganised and can’t keep a clean desk for love, money or anything else I might want. But I do keep a mean spreadsheet, can make lists, and can count up to a reasonably high number. Phew. Without these skills, my wildly imaginative nature and uber-creative take on life would have long since disintegrated into a steaming mess of optimism and unfinished grade sheets.
Almost diametrically opposed to above, but hey, what can you do? I hate to admit it, but a good teacher these days has to be part children’s entertainer. The good news is I don’t just mean a good juggler and ‘funny’ and all that, because kids are entertained by all sorts. Drunks, manic depressives, wild eyed madmen, hysterical uni graduates: all entertaining in your own way. Take your pick and run with it. Your classes will thank you.
I can look at a classroom I wasn’t in and within seconds tell you who was sitting where, who was eating what they shouldn’t have, how much of my cover work was/ wasn’t done and the precise moment someone decided to draw a penis on the table. It’s all inference. And when I’ve worked it all out, I can get a confession out of whoever I want to before the bell goes for next period. And I don’t even need a 60 watt light-bulb to shine in their eyes.
This is a biggie. So much of what we do is insincere. We feign everything, from anger (“I cannot BELIEVE you would DARE to open a window, WITHOUT asking!) to enthusiasm (“Wow! That’s an amazing use of rhyme! Blue and Clue! How clever!) Not to say we lie, per se, but gosh do we lay it on a bit thick. And the kids, bless them, are so trusting that they don’t for a moment think that it could be anything other than 100 per cent sincerity. I could tell my lot I’m really a woman and they wouldn’t flinch.
Worksheets, powerpoint presentations, lesson resources of all shapes and sizes: If they’re, pardon my French, Shit, the kids won’t use them and they won’t learn anything. So they have to be Good. Simple as that really. And unless your school has money, you’d better get used to doing it on the basic Microsoft suite.
Because, dear friend, when it gets Busy (and it does get Busy) the first thing to go out of the window (before planning decent lessons and after toilet breaks) will be sitting down to eat. You just find yourself getting through long, busy, frantic days with nothing remotely even approaching a pause, operating on a strangely effective combination of adrenalin and stupidity. How it’s done exactly is still a mystery to modern science.
Kids, especially kids who have been doing it for a while, have nothing to get out of school other than some qualification they vaguely appreciate that they may need at some point in the blurry future. So to get them through day after day of lesson after lesson is some feat. How do you do it? Good question. No, being serious for a moment, it’s all down to the (hopefully) infectious nature of optimism and enthusiasm. A teacher is always poised to rally the troops and get a class fired up. If not, dragging yourself and a classful of kids from one finishing line to the next just might become your actual reason for living.
Depending on the specific culture of your school, lessons may very well resemble entry into a nightclub, teacher at the door, scanning over-excited (or dead-eyed) punters for contraband and dress code. Everyone’s counted in and counted out, and if something isn’t right, They’re Not Coming In. Well, they are, but you have to sort of make a show of it. See number 6.