Yesterday, bewilderingly, I addressed prospective teachers about professional practice. Exactly a year ago I’d been in exactly their position, partway through the English learning area at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education – unslept, uncertain, and unemployed. The one tip I recall from last year’s session was a person who confessed to sobbing at the end of each day of her first term teaching. That helped, but not yesterday. What could I say that was both useful and true?
I’ve had a good year. I’ve learnt intensely but not impossibly. My school’s been a good fit for me and I’ve joined its full-time staff. I’ve sobbed, sure, but less so each month. With this in mind, I thought back over my time as a professional, pinpointing practices that have kept me buoyant in my first year, decisions and opportunities that I’d recommend to all new teachers if they get a chance. It’s a work in progress, but the teacher candidates liked it; so here are my four tips for those about to teach.
Tip 1: ride your bike to school. Or, more specifically, ride your bike home from school, especially if it’s downhill. Commuting outdoors by the water has given my first year oxygen. My friends and I are so used to the benefits of a daily ride that I seemed grumpy for the few days my bike was getting fixed. Many of my best ideas happen while riding; without a bike I’d teach worse.
Tip 2: host end-of-term drinks. Our apartment has an everyone-welcome policy and is the more-or-less regular site of book clubs, after-parties, sleepovers, emergency showers and meeting people we don’t know. Inviting new colleagues over at the end of first term felt automatic, but had a radical effect on the rest of my year. Rapport with other staff-members is essential to working happily anywhere, so risk an invite.
Tip 3: play dodge ball. Year twelve students hosted a fundraiser for charity that consisted of charging younger students to witness a no-holds-barred match of dodge ball between themselves and teachers who said yes. We dressed badly but played quite well, cheered on by all our students and the Principal. Accepting this uncouth invitation was a great move, shifting the dynamic between me and students in an odd but positive direction.
Tip 4: rap. Odder again was the request to take part in a “duel” between staff and students which would feature a rap battle. Seriously, schools are some of the least predictable workplaces around. This seemed like somewhat safe ground for an English teacher, at least until one minute before the event when I realised that a rap battle was improvised, not meticulously written, memorised and rehearsed. Suddenly I was being insulted in rhyme by a teenager and I had to spontaneously answer back. This was worth it for sheer unlikeliness, like a newly-devised adventure sport. New teachers, if you get the opportunity, you’ve gotta give this a try.
Teachers, feel free to leave your own hot tips in the comments. Best wishes to all graduating teachers – and thanks to my old School for having me back!