Be friendly . . . too eager to but not please

27th October 1995 at 00:00
John Bateman on the things he wishes he'd been warned about before he started teaching.

There are, I suppose, many young(ish) innocents up and down the country who await their first teaching post with all sorts of mixed emotions and anticipation (not least of which is the acquaintance with a half-decent pay-cheque after years of student penury).

I was a student once, about 17 years ago. I can just about recall the experience - akin to being "called up" but not yet having arrived at the barracks.

Here's some advice that I'd like to have given to the young me, and which might be of some use to all those about to remark on the great adventure that is teaching: * Pace yourself. As the great Bill Shankly used to say (not of teaching by the way) "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon". Conserve your energy - by the hour, the day, the week, the term and the year.

* Get off to a good start - build up your credibility early, and you can "cruise" a bit later on. I give all my best lectures in autumn.

* Get a partner - if you want one - who doesn't mind living with a zombie.

* Take your own mug into the staffroom, and don't sit down anywhere until you've confirmed territorial rights and imperatives.

Why make enemies so soon?

* Be friendly but try not to be too eager to please - you'll be taken for a sucker and lumbered with everything from running the lottery syndicate to doling out lockers.

* Your colleagues are more important than the students. Shock horror! Surely not? Sorry, but yes they are - students come and go, but your mates will be there for years, working alongside you, watching your back. Students are experts at playing you off against your colleagues.

* Never underestimate how difficult it is to get out of teaching once you're trapped in it.

Every year in teaching makes you less employable outside. Ironic, eh? An inverse relationship between expertise and appeal.

* Don't bother getting into any debates with non-teachers about your conditions of service. They'll just bang on about the length of your holidays.

* Don't take the business or yourself too seriously. Don't be a zealot or an evangelist. It's only a job, after all.

* On no account should you ever take the advice of anybody who is still in the classroom after 17 years.

John Bateman is eagerly awaiting his 18th year of classroom teaching in further education

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