Secrets to surviving as a teacher

It is doubtful whether there is a teacher out there who hasn’t seen the 1989 drama movie, Dead Poets Society.

If you haven’t (make a plan!), this sets the scene, and if you have, this will tweak your memory:

The story is set in 1959 at a fictional school; it stars Robin Williams as an English teacher who inspires his learners through his teaching of poetry.

Dead Poets Society received numerous accolades including nominations for best director, best picture and best actor (for Robin Williams).

One of the main character’s quotes that stands out for teachers is: “I stand upon my desk to remind myself … that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” And, yes, he was standing on a desk in the classroom when he said this!

Secret 1: Look at things in a different way

Teach things in different ways. Be innovative (see Secret 2). Be different. Be memorable (see Secret 4).

It has been proven that learners remember memorable things more than unmemorable ones.

Secret 2: Innovation is the calling card of the future

Stay updated. Always think of how you can improve. Come up with new or exciting methods to teach / assess.

Keep up with what is happening in your field of study / subject.

Incorporate new technologies into your classroom or try a flipped classroom (read more here) for a specific period of time.

Also read ‘The importance of teacher development’.

And ‘The 10 biggest breakthroughs in the science of learning’.

Secret 3: Face the classroom with confidence

On the cover of the teacher self-help book, 1000 best new teacher survival secrets, authorsKandace Martin and Kathleen Berry highlight 4 strategies that are equally important to new and experienced teachers:

  • Maximise your lesson time
  • Utilise all available resources
  • Confidently address prejudice, controversy and school violence
  • Effectively discipline your learners

Secret 4: The only way to survive is to have a sense of humour

Undoubtedly you know that it is a battle to survive in the teaching profession if you don’t have a sense of humour!

This was aptly illustrated by teacher John Keating (portrayed by Robin Williams) in the following dialogue:

Teacher: “Language was developed for one endeavour… and that is… Mr Anderson?”

Learner Anderson: “Uh … to communicate.”

Teacher: “No! To woo women.”

Something to remember: Every time you find humour in a difficult situation, you win.

Secret 5: Don’t take anything that happens in the classroom personally

If you are doing your best, you have done what is expected of someone in their job as a teacher. Never lose sight of the fact that learners have to do their part too. You cannot force learners to do what they are refusing to do.

Also never lose sight of the fact that the behaviour of a specific learner or a group of learners can sometimes be attributed to outside factors.

It is of no benefit if you harbour the belief that it is aimed at you.

Watch the most powerful scene from Dead Poets Society here.