Put your best foot forward

As tomorrow marks the beginning of the new school year for many students here in Australia, so it is also the first day of their new career for many graduate teachers, whom, having completed their teaching degree and having attained full time appointments straight out, seek to start out the new, and for them, first, year on a positive note.

There are many sources of advice and tips on how to approach your first day in your classroom available on the internet (for example, here, here, here or here) and of course you will be regaled advice, tips and secrets used in the past by your new colleagues and  you will hear how they survived their first days in the classroom.

Without getting into the debate about the value, quality or nature of advice found on the internet (I would like to think that we are all aware of the fact that just because something is on the internet does not make it so (as made all too clear in this example from 2012). Further to this, just because an experienced teacher told you about a strategy that worked for them, it does not necessarily that it will translate into your classroom.

I would like to point out that I am not saying that all advice you are given by experienced teachers is suspect, irrelevant or out of date. Indeed, you will likely receive a lot of valuable advice, particularly from those teachers within your new school, which brings me to the point of this short article.

You are going to be teaching within a particular context this year. That context will be different to the one in which you will teach next year, the year after that and every year until you retire, or move into a non-teaching position within the education hierarchy. This is because you have students this year who have lived certain experiences. Those experiences are different to those experiences they had lived last year, and so the students’ themselves are different.

A teacher may explain to you how they survived their first day of teaching ten years ago, and there will be some nuggets of usefulness within what you are told. However, those strategies worked for that teacher, with those students, in that year. The nature of children, the education system, technology and teaching means that you may not be able to use the same strategies as that teacher did (unless by some freak of Whovian time-travel you end up in that exact same classroom, physically and temporally) because the context is different.

Unless you happen to know the current Doctor you will have to make adjustments to any advice you are given to suit your specific context. The children you teach this year have lived through their own particular experiences, as have you. The technology, and to some degree the pedagogy and curriculum, are also different, and you need to factor that into any strategy you are given as ‘advice for surviving your first day.’

Listen carefully to the advice you are given. It is offered freely, based on experience, and well-intended. You do not have to use the advice. You also should not reject it out of hand, even if you wholeheartedly disagree with it – you do not have to use it just because it has been offered. You may have come to teaching with particular ideals of what education is for, how classrooms and schools should be run, and what learning means. Ultimately, you will teach in a way that fits who you are, within the context of your classroom. Your students will change over the course of this year, and so the way you teach may also change, as you and your students grow and develop in your separate but conjoined pathway of learning.

This of course is all advice, and so although I feel that it is useful, you do not have to use it, and that is perfectly legitimate. It is, after all, only advice.

Good luck for the year to all teachers, but particularly to those of you whom are new to the profession.

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