Here’s how to improve your performance, sense of well-being and resilience with the top 10 classroom survival tips for teachers.
It’s no secret that a career in teaching is as tough as it is rewarding. From heavy workloads to Ofsted inspections. There is always a new challenge on the academic horizon.
When every teaching experience is unique, how can you survive when unexpected issues arrive, angry parents turn up at your desk, or you can’t remember any of your student’s names?
1. Self Care
There is always more you could be doing. This is especially the case for teaching when the necessity to plan for lessons, mark assignments and various other prep work needs to be completed outside of working hours.
Yielding to that sense of pressure at the expense of your down time is a false economy and threatens to burn out both you and your personal relationships.
Through understanding that there will always be something to do and being okay with that in order to also prioritise your self care is key to your survival.
Time out for breaks, time with the family or just to watch a film will pay off in a calm and centred demeanour and a clear mind to face the challenges of the day.
2. Build a Support System
No man is an island. Although it may sometimes feel that way when you have upwards of thirty pupils all needing your attention. The number of school children in cohorts of 36 or more has trebled in the last five years.The continuing shift in class sizes brings with it the inevitable rise in issues to deal with. With that in mind it’s important to find your allies. Click To Tweet
Take time out in the staff room to connect with other teachers, particularly if you are in your first years of teaching. This support system and knowledge base is an invaluable source of back up. It’s also wise to build relationships with the office administrators and wider school team.
Becoming part of the school community will add to your sense of support and wellbeing – and you never know when their knowledge may be of benefit to you.
Involve yourself in school events, and make the effort to chat during break times. Just having someone in the same position as you to listen and laugh with can make all the difference.
3. Connect With Your Students
A positive student/teacher dynamic will help to engage and inspire – it will also make your life much easier. Students need to feel that there is a sense of equality in the classroom. The fair application of boundaries will let everyone know where they stand. It will also build a safe and trusted environment and stop you from being seen as a doormat (not always easy to come back from).
When an authority figure likes and approves of us and our work it feels good. Giving positive feedback is a great way to motivate and connect. Click To Tweet Recognising achievement, making it clear that you want your students to succeed, and using positive affirmations are the way to lay a strong foundation through which to connect.
Sharing stories from your own life, and class icebreakers are a good way to find out your student’s interests. You can then take that information and build a lesson around the things that inspire them. A great way to bond, connect and learn.
Show your sense of humour and your human side. They will be more likely to confide in you, and be pacified should home issues begin to affect their mood in class.
Ask about the issues you are aware of such as a sick family member, or changes in circumstances. Your attentive nature could make all the difference to their day, and their ability take in new information.
4. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Teachers
Each teacher is unique and on their own journey. By reflection each class and cohort of students will bring its own challenges, rewards and personalities.
When taken in these terms it is clear that… comparing your performance against another teacher, with a completely different class, is futile. Even when the same students are being taught – it is up to you to find where you connect and where your individual strengths lie. Click To Tweet
It’s normal to make a comparison and it’s okay to have those kinds of feelings. It’s important to remember which stage of your career you’re at and that more seasoned teachers will naturally have more experience to draw on. If you feel overwhelmed by another teacher’s performance turn it into a positive with our next tip…
5. Find a Mentor
It can take time to discover who you are as a teacher. What is your philosophy? Teaching style? These are questions that can take time to answer and may always be in a process of development.
The best way to select a mentor is to find someone you resonate with, admire and who takes a similar approach. If you’re really unsure it can help to spend some time writing about this, figuring out your motivations and not putting too much pressure on yourself to know all of the answers at once. When you begin to approach potential mentors trust your instincts and see what feels right.
The best place to find a mentor is within your own school, or other organisations that you’ve trained with. It is important that the mentor you choose is happy within their role, and that loves teaching. Click To Tweet Don’t be too formal, let the relationship develop naturally and keep in regular touch and ask for help.
You may find it beneficial to have more than one mentor. You don’t have to make it ‘official’ with one person over another and ultimately, if their advice doesn’t sit right with you, don’t take it. A good mentor is invaluable. However, the ultimate goal is to trust yourself, and grow out of your own experience.
6. Photocopy Your Classroom Materials the Day Before
If there’s one thing that’s going to upend your meticulously planned lesson it’s not the kid in a mischievous mood, the Wi-Fi going down, or even the sight of a dog in the playground sending everyone rushing to the window. No, it’s the photocopier.
The machine you only ever underestimate once if you’re a teacher cutting it fine before class. The sweet relief of giving the toner a shake and getting 10 more copies is going to stress you out more than you think right before standing in front of a class.
It’s one of those jobs that seems small and incidental but if someone else is using the machine, it breaks down or comes up with some unknown error in impossible robotic language the lesson you originally planned is over.Teacher's beware - always do your photocopying of classroom materials at the end of the previous day. Click To Tweet
7. Plan in Your Social Time
The office in your bed, and on your couch is bad for you. Even though we don’t need to be told working late into the evening isn’t good for us, we still do it. Just like that one kid who keeps ignoring your instructions, here you are in the blue glare of that screen.
Here’s the thing – ...planning in down-time and a social life is actually more productive. The reason for that is the work you do when you come back fresh gets completed in better time, it’s more inspired and possess a clarity. Click To Tweet
Anything that isn’t really important gets naturally de-prioritised or else it finds another pair of hands. If your life is in so much overwhelm that you can’t have some rest and time with people outside of work then you should be shouting up for assistance anyway.
Don’t allow anything to infringe on the time you’ve planned in for yourself. Even if it’s just to sit in your pyjamas on the couch. Do not let work creep in. This is your only safeguard against eventual burnout, and it will keep your personal support, relationships and sense of identity strong.
8. Communicating With Parents
As well as building a support system with the school, and a connection to the students, it’s important to know how to build relationships with parents. Have strategies for a number of eventualities – good and bad.
You can begin to make positive connections with parents through the praise you give their children. Call a pupil’s parents if the child has performed particularly well. This can act as a reward for the student and as a way to lay a positive foundation for your role as an educator in their life.
When there’s a problem and you inevitably run into an angry guardian you would be well advised to have some stock answers in your vocab in order to buy you some time to deal with the problem, and to safeguard against a full blown argument. Answers such as ‘Let’s book in some time after school. I’d like to investigate the issue further and give it the proper time and attention’.
In the meantime log the issue with your school office and headteacher. Make a note of the conversation so that you can refer to it later if you ever need to. Buying yourself extra time will also enable you to bring another staff member into the meeting with you if necessary.
Always keep a calm demeanour and having your own stock phrases ready will assist in this. If it looks as though the situation isn’t going to be peacefully resolved, offer to make the parent an appointment with the headteacher.
It’s natural for a parent to be protective and emotional about their child. There’s a lot to learn and consider within this dynamic. The Guardian has written an excellent guide on how to handle parents here.
9. Get Organised
Multitasking is a part of teaching. Sometimes when we have so much to juggle it’s easy to forget something important.
Keep a to-do list and add to it as soon as something crops up. Cross out what’s done and keep it up to date. The drama of the classroom can often override our memory and sense of priorities. Click To Tweet It is now so easy to store all of the invaluable teaching materials that you will accumulate.
Get your cloud storage sorted. Keep your files tidy and make sure you have your files saved with specific and relevant names. That way, if you can’t remember where it is a search should bring it straight up.
Paperwork is important too, however. A well organised desk at school and home will make your life much less stressful in the long term.
10. In Case of an Emergency
There will always be school yard drama, emergencies and kids that have turned up to school on a rough day. The teacher’s ‘in case of emergencies’ kit will keep everyone calm and happy.
Spare birthday cars, clothes, snacks and hairbands along with deodorant, wet wipes, tissues are just some of the items often cited by teachers.When there is an unusual or special event – such as fancy dress, make sure you plan for a contingency. It’s times like these that the kids that need your help become most visible. Click To Tweet
There’s nothing worse than feeling as though you are the odd man out because you’re the only kid that has turned up without fancy dress. Everyone needs a fair shot at participation.
Simple ideas such as creating a costume out of newspaper and dressing a pupil up as ‘Miss Print’ can really help to save the unforgettable upset.
It is the little touches that turn you into a teacher that is remembered and trusted.
We’d love to hear your teacher survival tips. Is there anything crucial that’s saved your bacon? Tell us your stories in the comments section below…