1000 Years of Education – Advice to My Younger Self
On Friday last week, the day we broke up for Christmas holiday, I completed my 8th year as a qualified teacher. I kept it quiet. I knew – in comparison with many long-serving colleagues – eight years were like the morning registration of a school day. In the thousands of years of the history of education, my time in the classroom was like the brief participation of a sonorous cicada in a long, glorious summer sonata.
Still, looking back eight years on, I can still remember vividly a few pieces of advice that I was given, and these I would happily reiterate even now as constant reminders to my younger self:
Don’t smile till Christmas This is controversial. I have since heard criticism of such approach to behaviour management. Nevertheless, for a newly qualified teacher, establishing authority is fundamental to an orderly learning environment. Ironically, during my training, “you are too nice” had been a recurring comment in my lesson observation feedback. Eight years on, I am still described as such – both as weakness and strength. So, don’t smile till Christmas, unless there’s a very good reason to do so. Even when you have to, display pleasure judiciously and sparingly.
Develop a thick skin “I have been called every name under the sun, and they are not complimentary,” one of my mentors reassured me that testosterone-fuelled and hormone-raging teenagers would react verbally to almost anything that went against their impulses. Stay calm and follow the school behaviour management policy. In time, you would also develop a skill to disarm hostility with humour. There are limits, however, certain offences must be dealt with officially, for example racist comments.
Don’t take it personally It was hard not to take it personally when you were told your lesson was not good enough for whatever reasons. This happened regularly during my training. The onslaught was particularly demoralising when I spent hours every night planning my lessons. For lessons to be observed, the planning became all-consuming. Yet, each adjustment and implementation of advice was met with further criticism. Still, my supportive colleagues would always try to ease my dispiriting anguish with the same remark: “Don’t take it personally”. You just need to keep going – the process itself will make you stronger if not better.
So there we have it, I reiterate three pieces of advice on practical, mental and philosophical adjustment for my younger self. After all, professional knowledge can be generated through iterative process (Evans, 2008), and the care for self can be achieved through the Foucaultian ascetic practice (1987).