Getting good at teaching, like all difficult pursuits, takes years. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some small things you can do in the short-term that will make a big impact immediately.
Go to bed
The biggest mistake I ever made as a new teacher was thinking it would be a good idea to sacrifice sleep. While I managed to get a lot done, I was a terrible teacher when tired and it only took a couple of days of insufficient sleep for me to be unproductive, ill and miserable.
Many of my colleagues work out. It is not unusual to glance around the staff room to find marathoners, hikers, weightlifters, martial artists and yogis. And it is usually these teachers who are darn good at their job.
Carve out a small period of time each day to take some form of exercise. One minute of air squats is a great workout and requires no equipment. Neither do jumping jacks, push ups or any other simple exercise that can be done anywhere. Choose something you think you will stick to and do it a little bit every day.
If you’re anything like me, you might have some scepticism towards this, but it is worth trying as the ability to calm your mind when you’re stressed should not be underestimated. And when a meditation session can consist of as little as one minute concentrating on nothing more than your breath, there really is no excuse.
But if that really doesn’t appeal, there are many other activities which can help you clear your mind. I find that cooking a meal from scratch or washing up dishes have a similar effect to meditation. The heat and sensation of the steam and the repetition of chopping and stirring stops me obsessing over that rude email I read at the end of the day or the poor behaviour that took place after lunch. It stops me feeling anxious about it all happening again tomorrow. And it lets me be a better husband to my wife.
If you’re new to meditation, I recommend using an app at first. There are many on the market. I personally use the Headspace app which is free of charge for teachers (see https://www.headspace.com/educators for more information).
Take a Vitamin D supplement
The human body produces Vitamin D when the UVB radiation in sunlight makes contact with skin. If you live in the UK like I do, then between October and March you will be going to work in the dark, teaching inside away from direct sunlight and then heading home in the dark. Consequently, I developed a Vitamin D deficiency which impacted my immune system. Supplementation has been a simple way to remedy this.
Drink more water (and less caffeine)
Dehydration will elevate your stress levels. Sipping more throughout the day is simple way to help keep calm so invest in a nice big re-useable water bottle to remind you. Caffeinated drinks, on the other hand, have a diuretic effect causing you to excrete water. More concerningly, caffeine can cause hyperactivity which can be disconcerting to a room of children. I have found that teaching after consuming caffeine made it much harder for me to teach with gravitas and so for that reason I only drink coffee at the very beginning of the day at breakfast and at the end of the school day once lessons have concluded.
Taking responsibility for my own self-development was one of the most exciting parts of being a new teacher, and I found that the most practical way of doing this was to read books.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to take hours. I read for about fifteen minutes each day and find it to be a great way to relax and re-energise myself with some exciting new ideas. I do this when I find I have dead time, such as my train journey to school, but even if you drive, you could listen to an audiobook, a podcast or TED talk.
While there are dozens of books written specifically for teachers, I personally enjoy reading up on topics to address my many weaknesses. Over the years I’ve read books about health and fitness to help me have more energy and books about productivity to help me get more done. I even read a book about producing better Powerpoint slides. The options are endless.