2 Sep 2009

So you wanna be a teacher?

Many people I have met online (and a lot of my friends in 'real life') are becoming or thinking of becoming teachers. I'm a trainee teacher mentor (I got a certificate and everyfing) and people are always asking me for advice.

I will do so here in a way that is often criminally overlooked in the various teacher training course texts...with swearing and bad jokes. I'll also try to touch on some aspects of initial teacher training that are unlikely to arise on your course.

Welcome to the Duke Fandango Teacher Training College.

1) Learn names. Simple yet very effective. The quickest way to demotivate someone (child or adult) is to get their name wrong. I use seating plans to help me do this but another good idea are some name games in your first lesson.

2) Sarcasm is a double edged sword. Many text books will say that you should never be sarcastic to a child. Clearly whoever wrote these text books hasn't stepped foot in a classroom since 1805 because sarcasm is a great behaviour management tool. BUT, it must be used with caution and thought. Tearing into the anorexic kid who hasn't said anything all year is probably the quickest way to alienate them more (and they will not stop crying!) However, if Reginald 'Bullying Meat-Head' MacSweeny is giving you any lip then give him both barrels in return.

3) Never scream. If you have to raise your voice then make sure you are controlling it. It is worth learning how to project your voice (a la thespians) to help you to avoid nodules on your vocal cords. If you find yourself screaming 'shut up you little retards' then you have lost control. If you don't have control, your students will. Remember, more can be achieved with a theatrical look of the watch than bellowing like Brian Blessed having an orgasm ("It's Flash!"...gross).

4) Enthusiasm is infectious. Like herpes but without the scratching. If you are truly enthusiastic about your subject then your pupils will be. If you can't be arsed then neither will they. I remember running across the desks whilst reading Richard III in full Shakespearean actor mode. The kids loved it for two reasons. Firstly, they could tell that I was enjoying it so they felt that it was ok to like it too. Secondly, there was a real risk that I would hurt myself and kids love it when a teacher faceplants the floor yelling 'a horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse'.

5) You have no right to be cynical...yet. Cynicism pervades schools like the smell of Pot Noodle and cheap lager pervades a student flat. However, the people who are cynical have been teaching for roughly 14 billion years (they were there shouting at the big bang for silence). You are supposed to be a fresh faced newcomer full of enthusiasm. Indeed, you have chosen this profession, not been drafted in. So act like it...

6) Be honest. If you can't or haven't done something then own up to it and apologise. The amount of ITTs who think that they have failed if they haven't got around to marking the exercise books and then lie about it is huge. It causes the class teacher many more problems down the road (normally when the ITT has buggered off on their second placement).

7) Don't be scared of fucking up. We all make monumental fuck ups (I aim for around three a week) it happens and that's it. The important bit is that you learn from your fuck up. It might not prevent you from making the same fuck up but at least you'll recognise it next time and perhaps guide the lesson towards being a mini-fuck up rather than a megaton-scale-universe-ending-lubricated-donkey-penis-in-the-face fuck up.

8) Laugh. You'll often be told 'don't smile 'till Christmas'. This is nonsense. You are not a robot and you should show the kids that you enjoy their company. If you laugh then say 'right, lets get on with some work now' you'll get a better response (and more work completed) than if you get grumpy.

9) Don't be afraid to apologise to a kid if you screw up. Imagine the scenario. You're tired. You've had a row with your loved one. You now realise that doing Jager-bombs until four in the morning was a bad move. You hate all. At that moment, little Jimmy passes a note to his friend Whitsable. You hit the roof:

'Jimmy you maggot! You half-formed lovechild of Stalin! Who the hell do you think you are, passing notes in my class like a Nazi quisling! You are detained for the rest of eternity, until the trumpet of heaven signals the collapse of civilisation and the arrival of the judgement where, if I were you, I'd be very, VERY CONCERNED!'

This is clearly an inappropriate response. Next lesson, take the pupil to one side and apologise. They will respect you a lot more if you have the balls to say you got it wrong.

Also, a good tip to dealing with letters is to confiscate them and pretend to read them aloud. I generally go for the 'I love Mr Fandango's lessons so much. He is well cool. Also, I heart Billy.'

10) Listen to your mentor. They might be an irritating tossmonger but they know their stuff. Ignoring them will make your life miserable. Also make them tea.

I hope this is helpful to those four people who actually read this blog, I'm aware that it is pretty limited but if you have any questions then comment away. Always remember that you are the becoming part of the finest profession in the world and that what you do everyday of your working life is an inspiration.

Best of luck,



  1. Interesting - I'm starting work as a cover supervisor after having worked as a tefl teacher in China soon and this really chimes with my experience so far.

  2. So helpful!! I linked to this post on our blog-- we've got quite a few of our classmates who lurk without commenting so I really wanted to make sure they saw this!

  3. Thanks for the tips! I was JUST telling my friend I was looking to be a sub this fall! These tips will come in handy!

  4. This is fun. I'm recommending it to all my friends in the teaching profession! Great post, Duke. More of this please...

    By the way, my aunt is a teacher too and she was awarded as the Best Teacher in Secondary Level here in the Philippines. She got P300,000 or 3,750 UK pounds. She was invited to the President's home too.

  5. Hah! Fifth reader clocking in, bitches! How dare you underestimate your 'following'.

    I've been thinking about being a teacher for AGES (going back to my old school in particular -- I taught a little there, when I was 16 -- computer science, as I was a nerd...) -- so your checklist was of great interest!

    Especially the bit about the lubricated donkey penis (why lubricated...?)

  6. @Sebastian - dammit! I thought I'd get less than three!

    If you think you want to do it then I'd say give it a shot. There's a lot of crap but it is very rewarding.

    And because an unlubricated donkey penis would be just awful...

    @John, wow - that's amazing. She should be very proud.

    @Nellyn, no problem. I may even post more tips.

    @Courtney - thank you, very much appreciated.

    @J - good luck, it's a hard job but a good cover supervisor is like gold dust.

  7. Gotta love the profession. I think its a tricky lose-lose situation - being a teacher. I give you credit for being so brave and holding onto your bold, sexy attitude through it all. Yummy Sir Duke.

  8. Oh, and "tossmonger."

    You're British alright. Now have a McVitie's and be a good lad.