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Ten steps to becoming a qualified teacher

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By Mike Leibling and Robin Priorpersonal and organisational coaches.

Teacher training can be a heavy load to bear, but follow our survival guide, and qualified teacher status will be yours for the taking

People attracted to teaching want to make a contribution. They have positive thoughts about the future and know that learning will enhance the quality of children’s lives. They know that society will function better if people give more than they receive. They are rarely motivated by money, status or power. That is why two things may come as a shock to student teachers. The first is that this gift of learning is not always welcomed by all children. Indeed, some children see school as an imposition perpetrated by people to be disliked. The second is that becoming a teacher is not always a smooth path. Much has to be survived and below are some tips to help you do that.

student on laptop

Being organised and prepared is key to becoming a good teacher

1 Take full responsibility

The journey towards becoming a teacher can seem like canoeing down river rapids. Even during periods of calm you know the water is not far away. Although most people will help you, some seem intent on becoming rocks in your way. But success and failure rest with you. You must focus on results and not excuses. If you walk away without qualifying there will be only one person responsible for that. Saying, ‘I would have qualified if it hadn’t been for such and such’ does not make you a teacher. One of the biggest lessons for us all is that no one else will make our career or life work.

2 Identify your motivation

You need to be clear about your reasons for becoming a teacher. Write them down on a piece of paper and pin them on the wall. When you have identified your motivation for teaching, ask the question ‘When I get that, what will that give me?’ so that you get the reason behind the reason. Having got that deeper reason, then ask the questions again to find a further, deeper reason. Your sequence of answers might be: ‘I want to educate children – so that they can live enriched lives – so that I can feel my life has been worthwhile’. Whenever times get difficult go back to this list to remind yourself what you are looking to achieve.

3 Use resources and deal with obstacles

Make the most of the people who support and encourage you. Express your gratitude for the help and ask for more. As for those people in your way, there are some clear dos and don’ts. Don’t antagonise, create conflict, become the victim or give up. They are likely to have more authority and leverage than you, and you won’t knock them out of the way. Rather behave as a canoeist, who goes round a rock in a careful and skilled way. If the situation can be changed then do what you can to change it. If not, manage your own frame of mind, your own self-esteem and don’t let anyone damage your sense of who you are or what you stand for. Just because someone has more authority or experience does not make them a better person or someone to emulate.

4 Manage your frame of mind

A sportsperson cannot hope they feel ‘up for it’ on the day. Performance needs to be managed. Feeling resourceful, positive and motivated can be helped by simply standing the right way. Think of a time when you felt really good about something and then stand in the way you stood then. The positive way you felt then will manifest itself in a physiology that matches that frame of mind. This is how body language works. In the future, whenever you feel low, notice how your physiology changes to match your mood, and then change your physiology to the body language that matches feeling good and notice how your mood changes to a positive one.

5 Select advice carefully

There are two types of advice givers: those who want to help and those auditioning for the Angel of Doom. Listen to all advice, but only follow the advice that takes you towards your objectives. If you have difficulty ignoring the advice of professional pessimists, notice how successful they have been and consider if you want to emulate their level of ‘success’. Thank them for their opinion, but don’t act on it unless it feels absolutely right to do so.

6 Choose your models wisely

If you have a mentor who takes short cuts or has an attitude that ‘near enough is not good enough’, remember to notice and model high performers and best practice in other teachers. Once you have qualified you will want to be the best you can be for as long as you can. If a mentor is not providing the model you want then look around for other resources, but do so without causing friction with the mentor you have been allocated.

7 Learn from your mistakes

Not everything will go according to plan. That’s life. So mistakes need not come as a shock. Notice them when they arise and ask what you can learn from the experiences. What will you do next time? And remember that both you and your children need mistakes in order to learn.

8 Tread carefully in the staffroom

When you are new to a school remember that it will have an individual culture and set of rules. Some staffrooms have an atmosphere of abundance where the attitude is ‘there is more than enough to go round, let’s share’. Others have an attitude of scarcity where ‘there’s not much around so what I’ve got I’ll keep’. Understand the culture before you say too much. Keep quiet and listen. Notice who sits with whom and who has their own chair and tea mug.

9 Do it your own way

There are two ways you can prepare for exams and produce coursework; grazing or scoffing. Grazers pace themselves over their course, revise systematically and plan a level workload throughout the year. Scoffers need time pressure to apply themselves and leave work to the last minute so that the threat of failure energises them. Choose the one that works for you (where ‘works’ means getting the results). Many student teachers are tempted to leave coursework until they are on teaching practice, but this is not advisable as teaching practice is very demanding. With all coursework, be clear you understand the objective and that your objective is the same as that of the person measuring you. Make sure you know exactly what is required and how you will be measured.

10 Don’t expect miracles!

Remember you are not yet the finished article; be gentle with yourself. Do your best, but remember – you are only human.


  1. eden lhamo
    on 13 March 2010

    it was really nice to go thru