10 Pieces of Advice for Beginner Teachers:
Are you looking Advice for Beginner Teachers? EFL Magazine recently posed a challenge of writing ’10 pieces of advice for beginner teachers’ to teachers. Who wished to share some of their tips on how to survive and thrive in a new teaching career. A big “Thank You” to all of you who took time out of your busy day to take up the EFL challenge and to share your pearls of wisdom with us all.
This article highlights the importance of the sharing of advice between teachers and how it can help us to learn from each other, and to learn to support each other. Each contributor will be acknowledged in full at the end of this article.
As teachers, we impart our knowledge to our students on a daily basis in classroom settings, virtual or live, all over the world. Despite our education and teacher training, we can at times find ourselves feeling unsure of how to manage our daily tasks. Each and every teacher everywhere has encountered teaching challenges and has had to learn some coping mechanisms. Now some of those teachers have taken the time to put together some tips which can help you to navigate your early teaching days.
1. Prepare Lessons in Advance
It is often said that if we fail to prepare, we prepare to fail. It is important to develop the habit of careful planning and preparation of classes in good time. Lesson plans can take any form, they can be prepared on many computerised platforms, or they can be a simple sketch with pen and paper.
The important thing is to get your ideas out of your head and into a workable plan. Preparation can really help with your confidence as a teacher. Preparation will make you feel and appear like a teacher who knows their subject and has planned a way to teach that subject. Of course there will be times when your plan will get thrown into disarray. Perhaps a student will ask a question you have not prepared for, or an unplanned incident will occur.
If you have properly prepared your lesson in advance you will be able to deal with whatever issue comes your way, safe in the knowledge that when you have dealt with the particular issue you will be able to return confidently to your lesson plan.
2. Time Management
As teachers you will have a set period of time to deliver your lesson. It is important to become a teacher who knows how to manage time very well. If a lesson is 60 minutes in duration, you will need to allocate a brief period of time at the beginning to welcome your students and to deal with any student queries.
Questions may arise during your teaching of the lesson and you must be able to deal with those questions in a timely fashion. This will avoid the entire lesson being taken over by student questions. When you have prepared your lesson plan you will have allocated time for the specific stages of your lesson and you may have included time for questions.
Time management is not only important for the actual teaching lesson, teachers need to learn to manage their own time too. You must look at all of the tasks that you need to do which can include lesson planning, marking of homework, grading of assessments, completing administration records, collecting and preparing any classroom equipment you may need, your travel time to and from your school, logging-on time between lessons, sending invoices and countless other daily tasks.
We can see how so much of your time each day can be taken up with teaching related tasks but we have not even mentioned yet that you must have personal time too!
Apart from the essential time you must take for personal grooming, preparing and eating your meals, and sleeping, you also deserve and require personal time where you can do the things you enjoy and which make life worth living.
It is important to make yourself a priority and careful time management will help you with that. Mark out pockets of time during the day when you can breathe, relax and recharge. Make sure you allocate adequate time to take care of yourself and to take time away from teaching. Resist the temptation to answer student emails on your day off. Strike a good balance between work life and personal life.
Work when it is time to work and rest when it is time to rest. You are a person who is a teacher, not a teacher who happens also to be a person! As they always tell us in the airline on-board safety demonstrations – put on your own oxygen mask first before you attempt to help anyone else.
3. Classroom Management Techniques
You are a teacher not a friend. You can be kind but firm. It is important to establish techniques that help you to keep control of your classroom. By setting the tone for the behaviour and attitude you expect throughout the course, from your students, you will set important boundaries. It is important to build a good atmosphere of trust and rapport with your students but you should not be worried about whether or not they like you as a person.
One of our contributors has recounted how being preoccupied with getting students to like her, led to an uncontrollable situation where the students were walking all over her to the point where she had little control over their behaviour and even less control over their English progress. By starting the school year firmly and with rules and expectations firmly in place that teacher now enjoys a more trusting, respectful, and long-lasting relationship with her students and truly believes that her students like her even more because of it.
By setting out the ground rules for your classroom you exude confidence and command respect. Another teacher suggests involving students in helping to devise some class rules and the importance of the imposition of penalties for rule-breaking. Another teacher suggests that you explore the reason behind any classroom misdemeanour, to check if it may be due to personal circumstances of a particular student or whether it is due to some teaching weakness on your own behalf.
4. Monitor Student Progress
When you build a good rapport with your students, the classroom can become an environment of trust. It is important to monitor student progress to identify some uncharacteristic behaviour, or perhaps a drop in grades. This will allow you to intervene at an early stage and have a chat with a student who may be struggling with issues in their personal life, or may be the subject of bullying. Good monitoring leads to early intervention which results in finding a solution to help your student.
5. Keep Sight of Your Own Teaching Goals
Create a vision and a mission statement for your own career and try to keep your progress aligned to those goals. Perhaps you wish to write academic articles, gain a further qualification, move to a different school, teach younger or older students or perhaps you have some other teaching goal. By identifying your personal goals you can monitor your progress and identify any steps you need to take to edge you closer to your dreams.
6. Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
We never stop learning! Take responsibility for your own professional development. Having a growth mind-set is a very powerful way of deepening your pedagogical and linguistic knowledge. By keeping abreast of current teaching practices and trends you will increase your understanding, boost your confidence, and perhaps find an interest you never knew that you had. Knowledge truly is power.
One of our contributors reminds us that no man is an island, we agree and we say that no teacher is an island. Regardless of our training or experience we are all learning on daily basis. No teacher knows everything, but lots of teachers have learned things that we have not. As a teacher you will be alone in your classroom environment with your students and you may encounter problems that you feel are unique to you. Being part of a network can assist you with those feelings.
It is important to reach out to other teachers and to share your experiences. You can get advice on something that is troubling you, or you can simply share your successes too. Having a network of trusted friends can really help you in your career. Of course, the usual rules apply, trust and confidence must be earned. But you will never make new friends who can support you if you never reach out. Join a network group on social media perhaps, or when the pandemic allows us all to meet once again, maybe meet for coffee and chats.
8. Mentoring & Observation
Some of our contributors highlight the advantages of finding a mentor to help you in the early days of your teaching career. An experienced and trusted mentor can really help to guide you, praise you when you do well, offer you advice on how you can improve, and provide much needed reassurance and support. Maybe you can become a mentor to someone else who needs your support?
Observation is also very helpful when you are new to teaching. By passively observing how another teacher conducts their class lessons you can learn what you should do, and maybe you will even notice some things you do not wish to do!
Money is said to be a vulgar topic of conversation but the reality is that it is a necessary one. In the early days of your teaching career you may feel that any job is better than no job at all, this can lead to financial exploitation. You may find yourself being underpaid, paid on an irregular basis, or not being paid at all.
Never pay a fee to get work. Avoid working for free, you are a teacher not a missionary. Do not linger in jobs that pay below the market average. If you are not being paid on time, or at all, then your employer does not respect you. The money you earn is only as good as the money you receive. Would you really want to work with people who do not respect you?
10. Be Confident, Be Yourself, and Enjoy Your Teaching Experience!
Some random advice from our experienced teachers: By learning your subject thoroughly you will build confidence in your teaching abilities, this will help you to enjoy your teaching career. Develop healthy relationships with the school community. Do not be afraid to be yourself and bring your own personality to both the classroom and the staffroom.
The more confident you become the more the focus will shift from you towards your students. Use self-reflection as a tool to gauge your performance, progression, and success but also to gauge your own happiness. Seek help from your network or mentor with areas that are challenging for you whilst finding the courage to forge your own unique path. No two teachers are the same, so be yourself.
There will be days that your job is less than ideal but you can use those days to learn about how you can change or adapt to have a more positive experience next time. Teaching is an exciting career and one in which you have the privilege to make a positive and lasting impression on the lives of so many people. Good preparation and time management should make your life as stress-free as possible.
Every day is a new start, constant change is to be expected, plot twists are inevitable, self-doubt is a healthy part of the process, do not be too hard on yourself, remember we all make mistakes, get a teaching portfolio to keep track of all of the awesome things you have done, do not try too hard to always begin new things but equally, do not get stuck in a rut.
Extend and expect mutual respect on a daily basis. Keep smiling. Be happy. And Be kind.
Be yourself-everyone else is taken!
And do not use regular markers on the interactive whiteboard!
Our Kind Contributors
Thank you once again to all of our EFL teaching friends who contributed both their time and their wisdom to aid in the compilation of this article. All of our contributors are listed below:
Julia Blinova, a freelance teacher based in Moscow <https://www.facebook.com/julyblinova/>
Wilma Luth, a language teacher and teacher trainer, blog: www.teachandreflect.com