By : Zainab Khaliq
7 Top Teaching Tips
I’ve worked at a number of secondary schools as a Science teacher, in the UK as well as Malaysia. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to stay very long at any of the schools due to relocation or changes in circumstance. But I hear from ex-colleagues and former students that I’ve left everlasting memories and effects on the students I taught.
I’ve also held on firmly to my track record of ‘outstanding’ lesson observations (although I think that the lesson observation forms aren’t always the best measure of teacher performance and student progress).
Anyway, I always get asked how I manage to accomplish such a response from the students. I thought quite hard about this and I came up with 7 top things I do as a teacher.
1. Build Relationships
I put this first because I honestly believe this is the key to being an outstanding teacher but it’s also one that requires some experience and practise. You see it’s a very fine line, you don’t want to be too friendly that you get walked over but you can’t be too scary either. Children don’t learn from people they don’t like.
All my first lessons with all my classes have always been focused on building relationships. I never actually started the content until the second or third lesson! Some may say ‘We don’t have time for that, there’s too much content to cover’. But I say ‘they’ll learn a lot more quickly and respond to your teaching better if they’ve built that relationship with you in the first place.’
My first lesson had a lot of ice breaker games (especially for the year 7's) and lessons with scientific debates (for the elder ones).
I also made sure they knew about me, not just the academic background of me but ME, my hobbies, my life, my spouse, my child, my experience on jet skiing, paragliding, as well as my fears.
2. Leave your baggage behind
This is serious and so important. Unfortunately, I've seen this happen way too many times and it needs to stop.
I've seen teachers scream at the top of their voice at students for the most trivial reasons, all because they've had a lack of sleep or a rough journey to work or because they’ve had a tough conversation with a colleague or spouse. Students are not your punching bag. What happens outside the classroom should stay outside and you need to come in with a positive attitude.
There have been days where I've had an hour of sleep because my little one had been ill or my journey took me over 2 hours because of a traffic incident. But that's not the students' fault and their education shouldn't suffer because of my rough night or morning.
If it's really affected you mentally then just be open with them. I remember one day I did just that. It was my year 11 class and they had their exams coming up so I really didn’t want to take a day off. I let them know that my child was not well and I had spent most of the night awake with him in my arms. I told them that I had come in to give them that support before their exams and they all worked like angels that lesson (not that they didn’t normally but they were just that extra bit careful).
Students are not your punching bag.
3. Show you care, and really do
Students may come across like they don’t care about what their teachers think about them, but they do. They REALLY do. I had a student (who's been quite difficult to handle for other teachers) turn up on my last day even though he had a flight to catch in a couple of hours! All because I cared about his progress.
Go to their results day, go to their matches, go wish them good luck at the exam hall even though you don’t need to be there, ask them about their lives, their interests. It makes such a huge impact on them!
4. Be firm, fair but most importantly be human
I’d say I’m pretty firm, behaviour management has never really been an issue for me considering I’m quite short. You need to ensure you stick to what you say you’d do - If you've issued a last warning - that really should be the last and you should take action the next time. Students are clever, if they see you let things slip, they WILL test you again. So, be firm.
I may get criticised for this one but I think it’s so important to be human too. If you have a student who has consistently done their homework and has one day come in saying they've forgot it and they’re crying and saying that they’d call their dad at work to drop it off for them, for Pete's sake, be human. Let it go. They probably won’t make the same mistake again! Sorry SLT for not following the detention rules.
Let it go
5. Be you. Don't try to imitate other teachers.
Ok so I get a lot of new teachers asking me how I’d teach a certain lesson. The truth is - it doesn’t matter how I'm going to teach it. You see, I’ve planned that lesson for my specific set of students -I know them well, I know what will work for them and what won’t work for them. It is impossible for another teacher to teach the exact same lesson to another class and get exactly the same response. Also, I have a personalised way of teaching that lesson that I feel comfortable with, another teacher may not feel as comfortable with it.
In fact - I’m a strong believer of building your own identity, build your own style, one that works for you and your set of students.
Of course, observe other teachers, learn and adapt. It’s all about trial and error.
6. Grow their confidence before you even attempt to grow their grades
There are so many students that are sitting in your classroom that believe they cannot succeed in the subject. I had students that, even before learning chemistry, they just had a negative attitude towards it and believed it was too hard for them. This is where your differentiation will need to come in. Really really know your students - target questions towards them, ones they can answer, encourage them to answer it and then praise them like there's no tomorrow when they get it right. I sometimes cry tears of joy when they give me correct answers and give them a pretend Hi5 and honestly it's the best feeling ever. They should feel the same!
Once they have a positive attitude towards the subject and are feeling more confident in it, pushing their grades up will become that much easier! Try it!
7. The work life balance and the urgent Important matrix
My husband introduced me to something ‘cool’ called the ‘urgent-important matrix’. I used to think it was weird but it really was a life saver!!!
You set it up something like this:
You write down everything you need to do on post it notes. Then stick it according to how urgent or important it is. Focus on the urgent/important box first and then as deadlines come closer you move the less urgent to more urgent and work on those.
Through my years of teaching, I promised myself that I’d never take books home to mark and I’d ensure I finish them in my free lessons or after school. I can proudly say that I stuck to that quite well. There have been instances where I’ve had to bring it home but just a handful of times.
Did I use childcare to get out of some non-compulsory meetings? Of course I did. That didn't make me a bad teacher. I have a life outside of work and that includes my wonderful son and amazing husband! My NQT mentor had told me that family always comes first and it really does. I’m so glad she reinforced that in me.
Your job will always be there, providing you make an impact, but your family is yours and they need & deserve your time
8. (I know I said 7 top tips but this one just sprung to mind!) Teacher Presence
Greet them at the door, every day, every lesson, every student. I loved doing this, it just put such a positive start to the lesson. The students love it too. Try it!
Make use of the whole classroom. Walk around it as you talk and explain things. Have good voice projection - this does not mean shout, it means to have a slow, clear, firm voice. Practise it. My PGCE mentor was great, he got me to practise this until it was perfected! And now I can proudly say, this is probably one of my best teacher qualities!
Be confident in yourself and your teaching. If you’re confident, the students will be confident in you. The moment you show you're afraid to stand in front of a class of 30 odd students - they WILL play up.
There are so many other things that I and many other outstanding teachers do in their everyday teaching but I felt these were really important for me. It really helped me enjoy teaching.
I'd love to hear any top tips you may have and whether you'd be adding any of these tips to your everyday teaching. Please feel free to comment!