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8 Tips that Will Help you Survive in Teaching – #JustLetMeTeach

Forgotten why you ever wanted to be a teacher? Refocus and get back on track with Dr Emma Kell’s wise advice

Dr Emma Kell
by Dr Emma Kell
DOWNLOAD A FREE RESOURCE! Paddington Bear whole school resource pack – with English lesson plans and activity sheets

To support our new #JustLetMeTeach campaign, we have free primary and secondary teacher packs to download with practical advice to help you reduce your workload, refresh your teaching, and reignite a love of learning for you and your students.

1 | Refocus on the students

Despite being surrounded by people and an overwhelming number of human interactions, teaching can feel like a remarkably lonely job at times. Making time to dwell upon the positive interactions with students can make such a difference.

Above pay and conditions, perhaps our most valuable crusade should be the right to devote maximum time and energy to our students, and to challenge policies and initiatives which divert us from this.

2 | Make your own rewards

If a student leaves your classroom saying, ‘Miss, that lesson wasn’t as boring as the last one,’ give yourself a high five and do a little happy dance. I have a battered old folder called ‘nice things’.

The rules are simple. Whenever I receive something touching or appreciative, I chuck it in there. When working life is less than brilliant, I pull it out and read it for an instant dose of cheer.

3 | Seek out inspirational people

It can be all too easy to get sucked into a doom and gloom vortex – the ‘us and them’ cycle. Seek out the wise and the bold; the long-serving and devoted; the experienced and outspoken; the calm and reflective; the passionate and inspiring; the taciturn.

Seek those who brim with passion and integrity, with a fierce sense of moral purpose.

Know who to go to for reassuring words, who you can truly trust during the inevitable wobbles, who will give you a firm dressing down and tell you to grow a thicker skin, who will understand because they’ve been there, who will help you gain a fresh sense of perspective.

4 | Keep in touch

You were once a student yourself. If someone inspired you, and if you know where they are, take a moment to reach out and say hello. It will, I promise, mean the world to them.

5 | Embrace your inner maverick

Choose your timing and audience carefully, but, as we tell our students, asking questions is a sign of intelligence.

If you want to question the wisdom of a new marking policy or the expectation to work on a Saturday, think it through and go in with solutions as well as problems, because a good school won’t want you to be silent.

6 | Accept good enough

I’m yet to meet the teacher who is always personable, approachable, up-to-date on marking and at his or her break duty bang on time. Good enough doesn’t mean mediocre or luke-warm.

Teach brilliantly for five years before you burn out, or pace yourself and make a difference to thousands more young lives. Like so many elements of teaching, when held up to the microscope, it’s all about balance.

7 | Switch off

It’s really, really hard to switch off from a day in teaching. Supportive friends and relatives will be prepared to listen, but they also have a right to say when enough is enough.

If this is you, literally switch off your laptop and phone. That app which syncs your school email with your phone so it pings when a message comes in is evil. Delete it. Step away from sight and earshot of anything which reminds you of work.

8 | Look after yourself

We teachers can be pretty terrible at doing the ‘my job’s more crucial/demanding/difficult than yours’ thing.

Teaching is a leaky kind of job – building dams isn’t easy, but it is essential. Young people want real humans in front of them in the classroom – be they flawed, a bit scatty or prone to making ‘deliberate’ mistakes on the board.

Students want people who teach, not robots functioning on the last of their dying batteries. Let’s do them a favour and look after ourselves.

Dr Emma Kell has 20 years’ experience as a teacher. You can find her at and follow her on Twitter at @thosethatcan. This is an extract from How to Survive in Teaching (£18.99, Bloomsbury).

We’re sharing this article as part of our #JustLetMeTeach campaign, in which we’re inviting teachers to share the moments when they’ve been able to pass on what excites them about their subject, and what has excited their pupils too – whether or not it helps children pass a test.

This is in response to our survey in which nearly 90% of teachers claimed to have taught ‘pointless’ lessons in order to help children pass national tests; 81% said they didn’t have time in the classroom to follow students’ interests; and 79% suggested that greater autonomy would improve the quality of their teaching.

Get involved by using the #JustLetMeTeach hashtag on social media, or get in touch with us on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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