Managing the information overload.
The early days of teaching are a shock to the system. Usually you’ll be starting your career after a prolonged period of downtime (i.e. the summer holidays) when leisured viewings of daytime TV while wrapped in a duvet quaffing corn flakes might well have become your daily routine as you cling to your student days. Then, in one fell swoop, you’ll suddenly find an assault of information that you’ll need to remember – duties, meetings, visitors, paperwork and any number of other things designed to be forgotten at the most inappropriate moment. The solution to this is simple: buy a diary.  If you can avail yourself of one that displays an entire week at a time, all the better.
Your diary can be your lifeline when it comes to meetings, and more… although you should naturally refrain from recording any information personal to the children. It might be prudent to keep your personal details to a minimum too. This is because the reality is that you will mislay your diary at some point. It’s as inevitable as the formula: government minister + expenses claims = impending court case. One way of expediting the return of a missing diary is to personalise the cover. If you are a known Star Wars fan then a prominent photograph of Darth Vader will mean that your diary is easily recognisable as yours without the need for someone to even open it. Favoured football clubs, whimsical nonsense about not having to be mad to work here, or photos of a much-loved pet are other possibilities. Be aware that there are also likely to be times when children will see your diary. If your main passion in life is your subscription to Playboy magazine or the Chippendales’ Fan Club then you might want to consider how appropriate such a cover might be in a school environment (similarly Princess Leia’s slave girl costume in Return Of The Jedi might be a Star Wars image too far…).
 Some very generous schools may even provide you with one.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Diaries have everything covered except themselves.
It’s not just a case of who can shout the loudest.
“If I shout you will do as I say!” is a classic mistake made by the nervous or (more often) arrogant teacher. In reality, such a “I’m the boss, so belt up and listen” approach is unsuited to any profession outside town crier, career interrogator and James Bond villain. The fact is that the classroom – when run well – rarely requires the voice to be raised. Authority is more than just turning up with a voice like a fog horn and an ugly attitude to match. Authority is a gestalt entity; it depends upon your audience, how you treat them, respect, listening, your level of interest, appearance and numerous other factors.
As a teacher, you have an immediate authority that comes with the position. Parents may disagree with you but they nonetheless recognise that you still play a large and important role in the life of their child/children. A similar status is conferred on you by the children too and the quickest way to undermine this is by shouting someone down. At best you’ll look to be losing control and, at worst, you’ll be seen to be treating someone unfairly. A costly error.
“First impressions count” is not only true of dating websites and impersonator’s conventions. Your appearance is clearly important – looking like a teacher gives you an immediate authority. Similarly your body language – how you conduct yourself – gives you an unspoken authority. If your manner is timid and uncertain then this suggests weakness that the more opportunist children may attempt to exploit. Of course, timid and uncertain may be your everyday character traits (you may well be nervous too) and this in no way prevents you from doing the job. All that is required is a little acting.
Opportunists usually attempt to exploit perceived weakness for two reasons:
– They may perceive you to be a challenge to the interest they crave from their peers.
– They may see themselves as the dominant force/leader of the group and will test your mettle. Such children have invariably been used to a relaxed approach to their dominance or a disproportionately high profile conferred upon them by your immediate predecessor.
There are numerous strategies to deal with challenges that come your way as some children will actively probe your authority to see what they can get away with. Your response to such situations will be watched closely. Here, techniques including having the last word, keeping calm and being fair will be crucial to maintaining an equilibrium.
While dealing with unacceptable behaviour amongst individuals, it is vital that you retain the sympathy of the majority and shouting is the quickest way to lose that. There are more subtle or humorous ways of dealing with the various challenges that could be thrown at you and these are discussed individually throughout this book (e.g. Echoing and “I know you are, you said you are…”). Humour is a winning strategy – when used correctly it can defuse tension, see off challenges and keep the majority entertained.
Remember that the reality is: you are in charge.
However, you are not the only person with a vested interest in having a smooth running class – there will be around thirty others whose education depends upon it. Ideally, you should be working together. Respect the children and they will respect you.
See also: Acting; Appearance; Calm; Enigma; Respect; Taking an interest
THE BOTTOM LINE: Authority is important – but it’s best to avoid the Third Reich approach.