The Ten Commandments – Advice for new teachers

As we approach the end of another academic year some budding teachers will be sat in anticipation, eagerly awaiting their new careers and looking to make a difference in the world and play a pivotal role in the development of our youth, or join one of the training programs that will put them in good stead for a career in the classroom.

With slogans like “Your Future – Their Future” ringing in the minds of new recruits along with pictures on government websites of attractive twenty-somethings smiling with glowing skin, amazing teeth and sharp suits;  surrounded by bright-eyed children eager to learn and promises of £25,000 bursaries protected from the evil clutches of the tax man, who wouldn’t want to “get into teaching”?!

Recently the UK government has expressed concerns that there aren’t enough teachers and many teachers are leaving the profession; the teaching profession currently seems to be struggling in the UK due to lack of teachers. I feel that it’s my professional duty to advise the newcomers and allow them to have a pleasant initiation into the fantastic world of teaching. It is for this reason I would like to present them with the following letter of advice:

Dear Newly Qualified Teacher/Trainee Teacher,

Congratulations on your new career choice, I hope your journey will be a fruitful one that will serve you well and allow you to bloom and play a key role in the development of young minds.

Having taught for 10 years, I feel somewhat qualified to give you new recruits some advice, free from the waffle and educational jargon that you will no doubt encounter along the way. I have summarised my advice into my 10 Commandments of teaching that I’ve borrowed (Thanks Moses!). I have adapted them for teaching and I’d like to convey them to all you people and hope you may find them useful in your quest. So here goes…

1. You shall have no other gods before Me – The ‘Gods of the educational world’ are usually seen to be Government bodies like Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, The Minister of Education or a Policy that has occurred as a direct result of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM); I would urge you to familiarise yourself with GERM as soon as you can in your career – they don’t teach you that on your PGCE. You are now technically a slave to the ‘system’. You will find that the various bodies that own you cannot make their mind up about what they actually want and change criteria and expectations on a daily basis. Get used to it. One day Ofsted criteria may tell you that you are “Outstanding” and the next day you may be put on some support programme to improve your teaching as you’re just not good enough. The truth is that no one really knows what’s going on so just do the best you can.

2. You shall not make idols – In many institutions it’s expected that you ‘brown nose’ the person above to ensure that your “career” remains stable. Doing this may keep you in a job, however, you will lack the integrity required of someone in your profession. Idolising the right people may also get you more TLR points and positions of responsibility – if this happens then you will soon realise that you’re talking about stuff and using educational jargon you don’t really have a clue about and everyone nods in agreement with you even if your ideas don’t make sense or are actually not worth thinking about (that’s people trying to brown nose you for recognition and credit – well done if you manage to get this far, you will realise you’re not really doing much teaching if you get to this stage).

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD vain – Especially when you’ve been blamed for something that either wasn’t your fault or something that was beyond your control. Remember that you will be blamed for everything; so learn to accept the fact that you are a walking talking disaster waiting to happen. Understand that unrealistic expectations are the norm with many schools expecting you to produce results that are near impossible to achieve with the students that you’ve been given. Try your best not to make up results and levels to fit the model that the school management expects you to adhere to; however, all your colleagues will be making these up to either stay out of the firing line or to make themselves look good. Try not to fall into the trap of doing your students work for them, or worse, giving them helpsheets which are basically the answers. This goes on a lot. I say try, but I’m sure you will inevitably fall into the trap of doing this just to survive and meet the demands of the idols mentioned earlier who just don’t have a clue; remember desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures…so be prepared!

4. Remember the Sabbath day – It should be a day of rest, but that doesn’t exist in your world. You will work after school, evenings and weekends (yes on the Sabbath too) and during your 12 weeks of compulsory holidays that everyone envies you for. Most importantly, you will do all of this for no additional pay (teachers are one of the only professionals on the planet that do not get paid overtime). In addition to this many schools will now expect you attend Saturday sessions (so much for the Sabbath!) that you will be contractually obliged to attend; remember these are also usually unpaid and you’ll have to prepare resources and mark work for them too.

5. Honour your father and your mother – But honour the mothers and fathers of your students more as apparently they know more about teaching than you do. Parents have become an integral part of school education reform and will be summoned before educational policies are implemented. Their decisions, that will usually have no educational basis will often create work for you, so be sure to respect them.

Additionally honour your contract too. Always be sure to get a job description outlining what your responsibilities are. Many schools avoid giving job descriptions for one simple reason; if you knew what your expectations were, they wouldn’t be able to make you work as hard as they’d like. Work is very easily generated in schools. Understand that off-the-cuff policies designed by people with little or no educational knowhow (it’s the idols from the Second Commandment again!) will be created and shelved soon afterwards. You will naturally be expected to input into these essentially creating a document that will give you more work to do. But remember, unless policies are clearly written after an in-depth consultation process with all staff and the governing body, understand that they aren’t worth the paper they are written on so don’t beat yourself up about them as the “experts” in your school will soon realise that implementing such policies are more work than they are worth and will send them to ‘Room 101’.

6. You shall not murderFirstly, Kids are annoying; at many points in your career you may want to kill a few of them. My advice to you is “Don’t!” They will not listen, they will not complete work, they will not respect you or cooperate and they will make your life a living hell – but that’s just the way it goes. You will have constant thoughts of how miserable they have made you and they may also cost you your marriage; but other than that, they are generally quite sweet and lovely so learn to persevere. Secondly, do not try and kill any friends or family that keep reminding you that you’re the luckiest person alive as you get up to 12 weeks compulsory holidays a year (learn to forgive them as they obviously don’t know that you’ll probably be working through practically all of them, refer to the Fourth Commandment). Lastly, please also do not try and kill yourself either. Teaching is an increasingly stressful job with suicide rates on the increase; please avoid contributing to the statistics; it makes the rest of us look bad.

7. You shall not commit adultery – I find that teachers who generally do well in the profession are usually unmarried and have no children or personal responsibilities. If you are one of these, then you’re in for some fun. With all the unpaid work you are doing, you may not have an opportunity to have an affair anyway. If the opportunity arises do not do it with a fellow colleague in the same place you work; it’s extremely awkward and unprofessional.

8. You shall not steal – But in order to survive, you will have to appropriate resources that others have made. Inevitably they will also want to take some resources too so it’s expected that you give something back. Join online teaching communities for your subject and share those resources! ‘Do not re-invent the wheel’ as working together will allow you enjoy life (well what’s left of it after you’ve completed your work…if you ever get to that stage).

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour – What you will realise is that there are many people in the teaching profession that for some reason or another would want to screw you over. Usually it’s someone in senior management who doesn’t like your tie or the fact you’ve progressed in your career a lot quicker than they have or that you may actually know what you’re talking about and be more intelligent than they are. Be on your guard! Your examination results, students’ progress and general “professionalism” WILL be used against you. I learnt this early on in my career when even 98% A*-C grade passes were not good enough; my own results were a false witness against me!

10. You shall not covet – Finally, Your life is technically not yours any more. It now belongs to another (i.e. The government, the institution you work for, Ofsted etc.). Besides, any dreams of owning a house, a nice car or the nice suit that you saw on that government promo poster to get you into teaching in the first place will not be possible as your pay will not be proportional to amount of hours you put in. Accept the fact that on average you will earn less than Coal Mine Operatives, Crane Drivers, Pipe Fitters, Train and Tram drivers and some Police Officers. Everyone will complain about your pension benefits (which will diminish year on year) and you’ll generally be seen as the “enemy” by demanding your pension rights (which will only be useful if you haven’t killed yourself by then; refer to the Sixth Commandment). So in short, you will not covet much anyway, as quite frankly, with paying off your student loans, rent, taxation, pension contributions  and other expenses etc. you simply won’t be able to.

And that’s it really! Teaching is a lovely profession and hopefully you will not drop out of the profession after three years like most teachers do. If you can stick at it and put up with everything that works against you, then you’re in for a whale of a time!

I hope this advice has motivated you more to take up this wonderful career. I wish you all the best and wholeheartedly respect you for the sacrifices you’ll be making. I wish you the best of luck (as you will need it) – Welcome Aboard!

Best wishes and regards,

Omar Sheikh

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