Six ways to ensure your teaching days are not the unhappiest of your life

29th October 1999 at 01:00
First find your course, then escape the classroom, says Vernon Trump

Teaching is one of the world's oldest professions and is full of traditional practices and values, some of which may appear dreadfully old-fashioned and, at times, frustrating to the forward-looking student about to take the plunge.

So, here are a few pointers for the new entrant.

Remember, it is important for kids to have all sorts of teachers. So, while older, more experienced colleagues may frown on your opinions, practices, dress sense or whatever, you are just as much a role model as they are and equality is as valid an issue in the staffroom as it is at the chalkface.

1. Courses. Try to sort these out on your first day. Look at a list of all the LEA's training courses and choose ones in which you are interested, as well as ones you need. In my first year, I missed out on this, spending far too much time in school when I could have been escaping for an afternoon. It might be tempting to spend your whole first term in school - but give yourself a break.

2. Names. Learning students' names quickly earns you loads of respect. This particularly applies to arts teachers in secondaries, who can see upward of 300 students per week. Mixing up names gets you nowhere. Either use a seating plan or do the "stand-up" game, where a pupil can only sit down when you've remembered their name. It can be embarrassing but, ultimately, gets you there.

In my first post, I had a group of seven Year 8 pupils who sat together called Rehana, Ruhena, Ruhana, Rahata, Rahale, Shahanara and Shaguffa.

When I'd learned their names, they appreciated the effort and were able to say to other teachers: "But Mr Trump knows." Yessss!

3. Jealousy. As a young, trendy member of staff, older colleagues will be driven mad by your popularity among the pupils. This may make you the subject of some waspish gossip, which other "friends" on the staff will then rush to repeat to you.

Be prepared for this. Some people, bless them, have nothing better to do and gossip dies down when ignored, leaving the perpetrator feeling silly.

4. Favouritism. As a new teacher, some pupils may transfer their special affection to you. Just be aware of having favourites and never let it show in the classroom.

Also, remember not to reciprocate any animosity shown to you by particular pupils: it is possible to have all the kids on your side, whatever the textbooks say, with perseverance. Some kids only know rejection and aggression and it takes time for them to be accepted unconditionally.

5. The Staffroom. This hotbed of resentment and whispered snide comments cannot be avoided. Don't avoid it, because you have to go there for briefings, your pigeonhole and a hundred other reasons. Don't be intimidated.

Avoid cliques at all costs. It is tempting when you're new to attach yourself to a group. Don't. This will limit you. Hop from clique to clique - this will let others know you have a life outside.

Which brings us to I 6. Beyond the School Gates. For goodness sake, don't neglect your social life. The pub with colleagues on a Friday is not a full social life!

Remember, the whole point of all these years of studying was to learn how to party, and the work will never all get done, no matter how much you try.

Vernon Trump teaches in London under a different name

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