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How To Be A Teacher

Updated on January 24, 2016

Are We There Yet?

A picture from our holiday in Appledore which is the background to Are We There Yet?
A picture from our holiday in Appledore which is the background to Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet? - YES, We Are!

A Comprehensive Easy To Use Guide To Successful Teaching

Having been a teacher for nearly twenty years and having successfully mentored a substantial number of new and trainee teachers, as well as a few experienced ones, too, I decided it was time to write a book about teaching.

More importantly, a book which looked at the key aspects of successful teaching, as simply as possible, without overcomplicating it.

The result is my first book Are We There Yet?

If you want a book that bulldozes through all the nonsense, all the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of teaching, as presented by many of the teaching & education ‘experts’, then, my new book, Are We There Yet? is for you, regardless of which subject you teach.

It is simple, direct and not concerned with complicated ideologies.

Each section in my book provides straight forward, honest basics on how to do the job in a no-nonsense way that produces results.

I have been teaching for almost twenty years and I have seen a lot of different fads, flavours of the month, styles, ideas and theories put forth, which have then been discarded and replaced by whatever new ‘radical’ idea has been dreamed up by some ‘expert’ or another, usually preceded by a cabinet reshuffle or a change of government!

But throughout that time, my own approach has remained largely unchanged.

The ideas, principles, practices and strategies that I use now are basically the same ones that I used during my early years and I use them for two reasons:

1. Because they work!

2. Because my ideas are not entirely my own. They have been formed through watching and listening to some truly great teachers and by discussing, debating and arguing about teaching with those people, at length and then, having absorbed and learned from and been influenced by their ideas, styles, techniques and strategies, I formed a set of teaching ‘basics’, based on their brilliance, NOT my own, which, if followed properly and whole-heartedly, produce success.

It’s what all successful people, in every aspect of life, do. They learn from others by observing, analysing, questioning, discussing, debating and arguing and then, they make a decision about which aspects of what those people do can be incorporated into their own way of working.

I am very fortunate to have known an internationally renowned surgeon who, when I talked with him about how he came to be so good at what he does, described that last paragraph to me.

He did all of those things as part of his own development, as a surgeon, to discover what he already did that was excellent and which aspects of other surgeon’s practices and procedures he could learn from and incorporate into his own way of performing surgery, in order to become the best surgeon he could possibly be.

The result was a surgeon who other surgeons stated was the one person they would trust, in an operating theatre, with their own lives.

A man whom I trusted with my lovely wife’s life when she needed a miracle.

And I have tried to model my own development, as a teacher, on that same model.

Prior to being a teacher I had an extremely successful sales management career and I have brought some principles of selling and successful sales management into my teaching career, for the simple fact that there is a lot of overlap between selling, sales management and teaching.

In the world of sales and sales management, we worked on a basic premise that ‘Telling isn’t selling’ and the same is true of teaching; Telling isn’t teaching!

Once I became a teacher, I quickly learned that teaching the world’s most hated subject, Maths, was exactly like selling.

No one was going to ‘buy’ maths just because I told them to or because I said it was good for them or because I said that they needed it for a better life!

So, as a teacher, I had to work in exactly the same way that I had worked throughout my sales and sales management career:

I needed to use a variety of skills and techniques that would help my customers (my pupils) actually WANT to buy into Maths.

And I would like to think that I have achieved that through the methods, techniques and strategies that I describe in this book.

The core concept of Are We There Yet? is based upon developing strong relationships, in the classroom, which are essential to creating an environment where pupils are able to learn.

In fact, building an environment where they WANT to learn!

If you take a look at my book you will find that I have concentrated on the basic elements that all new teachers are most concerned with and which form the core content in my book:

  • Planning

  • Assessment

  • Behaviour Management

  • Differentiation

  • How to work smarter, not harder

Here are some extracts or highlights from Are We There Yet? which cover the key points from the book and, most importantly, the key points you need to focus on if you are to successfully create a classroom where your pupils want to learn and are able to learn.:

One of the key building blocks in developing a successful teaching career is:

1. The ability to build relationships with your pupils, because once you have established your own relationship with them, you start be a ‘person’ in their eyes and not just a teacher. Once you have a rapport with your classes, you are able to take your lessons further because the strength of your relationship with your pupils means that they trust you and have faith in you. In other words, they believe in you.

Once you understand the importance of having strong relationships, in the classroom, the next crucial building block is:

2. The need to plan in a structured, in-depth way. Planning needs to be at the heart of everything you do in the classroom. You know what they say . . .’proper planning prevents piss poor performance’ and that saying is so true. So you must remember that other saying, which is that ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’

Look at any sport, whether it is a team sport, such as football, rugby or cricket or an individual sport, such as tennis, golf or boxing. Do you think that any team or individual could achieve success without detailed planning?

Whenever you are a bit stuck or whenever you are starting to lose sight of what to do and how to do it, just stop and think about ‘Are we there yet?’

Then, once you have developed good relationships and have started to create well planned, structured lessons, the next building block is assessment:

3. Another point I have tried to make, strongly, in this book is about assessment and the need to start your planning with assessment. In other words, before you even begin to plan, think about where your pupils are now and where you want them to be and THEN you can plan, but without assessment, without knowing as much as possible about their prior attainment and their abilities, your planning will just be a shot in the dark.

Understanding and becoming good in the first three building blocks means you are ready for the next building block:

4. In my book, I describe what differentiation is, what it looks like and how crucial it is, if you are to achieve success for ALL your pupils, not just some of them. Within my writing, I will show you how to be able to picture differentiation and how to use it in your classroom, not only to ensure good progress, but also to help you to achieve good behaviour outcomes.

Behaviour is one of the most talked about aspects of teaching but if you get those first four building blocks securely in place, you will be well on the way to a classroom where behaviour is consistently good:

5. Talking of which, remember that good behaviour is not something that exists on its own. Some people talk about behaviour and approach behaviour as if it is an independent facet of the classroom.

Remember that it’s not! Behaviour (good or bad) is the culmination of all the other things we should be doing properly. If we do all those things well then we should get good behaviour and vice versa.

So, in the early days, remember to get in them in fast. Get their backsides on a chair and get them busy straight away. And keep the work at a basic level to begin with. Don’t give them any opportunity or excuse to be off task.

Give yourself the chance to build and develop your routines, which will benefit both you and your pupils and then, after a while, once the dust has settled and things are reasonably settled, in your lessons, you can then start to develop the other, more detailed features of your teaching.

Just learn to walk steadily first, before you think about anything more than that!

And then, you need have no fear about lesson observations:

6. Don’t get too hung up about lesson observations. You will find that the more you try to plan an outstanding lesson, the more you will tie yourself up in knots.

So, just teach your normal lesson. Every time you plan a lesson make sure that you do the best job that you possibly can and every time you teach a lesson, make sure you are doing all the right things and then, use that as the basis for your observed lessons.

Don’t strive to teach the ‘perfect’ lesson. If you have a timetable of 21 lessons per week, strive to teach 21 good lessons, not 21 perfect lessons.

If you do that, you will be alright!

If you follow everything in my book then you will find that your normal lessons are always of a good standard and that is just fine.

I have done a lot of work, over the years, with quite a few strategy managers and there is one whose opinions and views I rate very highly.

We were talking about lesson gradings one day, during a strategy meeting, and he voiced an opinion which I was glad to hear, because it was the same as my own.

He said “There is no such thing as ‘planning’ an outstanding lesson. There are too many random factors and variables involved. The best a teacher can do is to plan and deliver consistently good lessons, day after day after day.

If a teacher delivers good lessons every day, lesson after lesson, then there will be times when everything ‘clicks’ and the result is an outstanding lesson. They just happen, they aren’t planned

I repeat, I was happy to hear a well respected, national strategy manager say this because I have long argued this very point.

I know that the harder I have tried to plan and deliver an ‘outstanding’ lesson, the worse the lesson has become, simply because there are times when a person can try TOO hard and when we are trying too hard, we overcomplicate things and in the process everything comes out all wrong!

What you need to do is make sure that your RESULTS are outstanding!

If your pupils make better than expected progress and if your lessons are consistently ‘good’ or better, then you ARE an outstanding teacher.

You will teach around 800 lessons each year and whether or not you are good, bad or ugly does NOT all boil down to just three observations out of those 800 lessons!

It’s what you do in the other 797 lessons, plus the progress your pupils make, that will define the standard of teacher that you are!

I have encountered too many teachers who have received an ‘outstanding’ for their lesson observations and yet, their pupils make less than the expected level of progress!

Don’t try to tell me that someone whose pupils make less progress than they should is an ‘outstanding’ teacher and that they are a better teacher than someone whose pupils make more progress than expected, but who is ‘only’ rated as ‘good’, time after time!

What a load of Blocks!

Make every lesson you teach a good lesson and create an environment in which your pupils learn, to a high standard, and you WILL become an outstanding teacher.

You won’t need to rely on the subjective opinion of someone else, depending on what mood your class is in that day, to tell you how good, or bad, a teacher you are!

Remember two questions:

1. Did you do the very best you could, today, and

2. Are you proud of how you performed today?

Just make sure you can answer ‘yes’ to those two questions and you will be doing splendidly!

So, if you are a newly qualified teacher, a trainee teacher, a mentor or someone who is simply curious about teaching, take a look at Are We There Yet and let me know what you think . . .

It is a book which will help you and guide you through the basics of becoming a successful teacher but it also makes some controversial points about the strategies which lead to success in the classroom.

In places, my book defies and challenges conventional ideas on what makes a good teacher and how to deal with behaviour issues, BUT (and this is so relevant) the ideas I present have actually worked, for me and for many other successful teachers, over the years.

It is not a book full of theory and theoretical ideas.

It is based purely on experience and what actually works!

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?: A Comprehensive Easy To Use Guide To Successful Teaching
Are We There Yet?: A Comprehensive Easy To Use Guide To Successful Teaching

If you want a book that bulldozes through all the nonsense, all the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of teaching, as presented by many of the teaching & education ‘experts’, then this book is for you, regardless of which subject you teach.

It covers behaviour management, classroom management, assessment, planning, differentiation and relationships



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