Did you decide to go into teaching at an early age? Did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher? I admire people who did because I really didn’t.
At a young age I wanted to be a brain surgeon, a lawyer, a flight attendant and the mother of four sets of twins – yes four. However, I never thought about being a teacher. Why? Because my father hated teachers and would often quote George Bernard Shaw:
“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”
He saw teachers as failed professionals and therefore the road to teaching was never even one I had considered. However, here I am now – a passionate teacher of twenty years and the quote I love is:
“Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.”
So, how did I arrive here?
My teaching journey started when I went to university and did a joint BA Honours in Russian Language and Political Studies. I did this as my father was very keen for me to work for the diplomatic service. He tended to look for the easiest route in to things for me and considered that Russia would be a great way into the diplomatic service. This is the man who said that I should learn the bass trombone, as in an all-girls school there would always be a place in the orchestra for me (he was right). What he had failed to think about, with regards to the diplomatic service and Russia, was that I wasn’t terribly keen on either idea.
In my final year at university, it was discovered that my sister wasn’t overly prepared for her A’ levels (given that she hadn’t attended school terribly much – Belfast city centre had been more appealing). In a midst of panic, my parents asked me to support her with her studying.
I did just this and one day she turned around and said that I was a great teacher. This was shocking on many levels, but mostly because we argued like cat and dog and rarely complimented one another. So, for her to say this was really quite something.
On the back of this and as I was reaching the end of my degree and wasn’t keen on being shipped off to Russia, I applied to do a P.G.C.E in Political Studies and History (secondary). This didn’t go down particularly well with my father but I was excited – I got to study more politics and history (subjects that I loved) and I got to teach them.
My P.G.C.E year wasn’t the breeze that I had expected it to be. Firstly, I was teaching areas of politics and history that I had never studied before and found that very overwhelming. Secondly, I was shocked that the students weren’t as excited about my subjects as I was. How could the potato famine not interest them? Finally, I had to learn behaviour management as I quickly discovered that secondary students don’t naturally behave – they are all being cool and this was, initially, often at my expense.
I survived and I learnt:
- Build relationships. As I did this with the students, I discovered that my behaviour management improved. This was not because they became my friends, but because they recognised that I wanted them to succeed and respected them. To this day, my behaviour management is built on mutual respect, high-expectations and letting students know that I believe in them.
- You can’t know everything. I don’t know why I thought I’d only teach things I knew about when I started but I quickly learnt that more often than not, I would be teaching about areas of history and politics that I knew little about. Research was my friend as were other colleagues in the department.
- To ask for help. This is not something that I found easy to do as seeking help felt like an admission of failure. However, I discovered that when I asked for help, people were only to ready to support me. As a P.G.C.E. student I needed support and guidance from others and I wish that I had sought it more often than I did.
At the end of my P.G.C.E. year, I knew that I didn’t want to teach secondary, but I also knew that I loved teaching. I was at a crossroads and truly didn’t know what to do – if you want to find out what happened I will be writing about this next week.