10 Lessons From My First Year Teaching

Despite my upbeat posts on social media, the past twelve months have been incredibly challenging and full of personal lessons that come from my many failings as a first-year teacher. I have often felt like Han Solo, trying to escape sticky situations in a beat up Millennium Falcon with a malfunctioning hyperdrive. Fortunately, the students in my classes were as forgiving of me as I was of them.

As the year draws to close, I wanted to reflect on my ten greatest lessons from this year. While I thought that some of these were true, I now know they are.

  1. Every student has the capacity to do whatever they want to do, but their mindset is key to unlocking this potential. The students I observed who are positive with a ‘can-do’ attitude and ‘growth mindset’ are the ones who consistently achieve. It’s not rocket science, but developing this before students enter the school gates must be a priority for parents.
  2. Cultivating a desire to gain knowledge and giving kids the skills to acquire it is far more important than teaching facts. While there are some students I have met who know many things, the students with the desire and ability to seek out new information themselves are the ones who are the most dynamic.
  3. Being too nice is killing education. I love positivity and try to make it permeate my classroom. Unfortunately, teachers often seem unable to ‘tell it like it is’. From politically correct reports to the ‘softly softly’ approach of behaviour management, ‘real talk’ appears to be missing from education. While unconditional positive regard is important, we need to be more honest with children and parents.
  4. Our systems let kids down.We don’t expect children to run when they are struggling to crawl. We give them support. We help them. I am constantly baffled as to why our systems allow students to remain disengaged in a school, ‘fail’ an entire year, then move them onto the next year without support. Schools must be enabled to provide the assistance each child needs to succeed.
  5. Providing kids with choice is a must, but basic skills are too. Most of my students loved the amount of freedom I gave them in tasks. For many, I wish I could have provided more. However, it is important to acknowledge that while most students can embrace and learn in an environment of choice, they must have basic skills to do this. Ensuring all students have these should be a priority for all schools.
  6. Differentiation is necessary, tough and takes time. Adjusting tasks, activities and assessment to help students learn more is one of the most rewarding parts of teaching. However, to do this well is genuinely difficult and means you must plan effectively. I hope to improve this next year.
  7. Apathy is the most challenging element in a classroom. It eats passion, kills creativity and reduces talented students to zombies. Building my ability to structurally combat apathy is my big challenge in 2016.
  8. Nothing should be taught without a good reason. Students hate, hate, hate! learning things they believe are useless and without meaning. Teachers must constantly ask themselves if what they are teaching really is useful.
  9. Forming strong relationships is the best way to get things done.The only reason I have been able to achieve anything this year is due to relationships. Like politics, sales, or staff management, relationships are the foundation of convincing students to learn, parents to engage or staff to change.
  10. Saying hello, thanks and sorry are three of the most powerful words in education. These words are not said enough in schools, I hope I can continue to work to change this.

These lessons and more will help me to improve next year.

As I said goodbye and ‘merry Christmas’ to students at Melrose High School yesterday, a student gave me a card that reminded me what a magical experience I have had in 2015.

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