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Being honest with your students

Is honesty REALLY the best policy?

REMEMBER Teacher's College? A period of hectic chaos for many apprentices of education. The hours were long, the student teaching memorable, and the lesson plans carefully thought out and carried out, for the most part. We were assessed, scrutinised, commented on. Given advice. Most importantly, however, we learned and improved as teachers and individuals.

I broach the topic for two reasons: One, it was inspiring and a revelation to see so many NQT (newly qualified) teachers in the London schools I taught. They had fresh energy, were innovative and really wanted to teach and help their students, even when they had more harrowing, challenging days at the "office". They worked hard in their respective teacher training programs, and it was so gratifyingly obvious. Two, I came across a great post by a teacher who wrote about his freshly appointed student teacher's first day and the initial, first impression he made with his new students. It's an honest, humble message, to all new student teachers and graduates out there.

So I thought, "why not be honest with your students?" A lot of teachers like to put on a show in the classroom. The act of being serious, overbearing and in control. Yes, there has to be respect and discipline, but I believe that being honest with your students is another way of connecting with them on a more personal, truthful level. They can appreciate that, believe me. It's a fine balance that is never perfect...but what a challenge it is.

In a way, it is a performance. We not only thoroughly construct carefully thought out lesson plans that have outcomes and assessments, but we have to deliver it in front of 30+ students in an effective, engaging manner that stimulates them and their critical thinking skills. Students learn in variously different ways. The gears that their minds function on respond to so many subtleties and techniques of teaching. They want an influx of knowledge, good marks and smiley stickers, yet they also want careful, honest guidance from the teachers they look up to and want to impress occasionally.

There are so many ways to achieve this inside the classroom and around the school itself. Have one-on-one sit downs to review their work from time to time so that they feel comfortable and you can really focus on what they can improve on. Your students will soon discover that you are not just the booming voice of detention. You care for their success and well-being. Talk to your students outside your home form - greet them in the hallways, ask how they are doing when you pass the lunch room. And for goodness sake, smile. Even though your pupils seem like they are scheming all the time, disrupting class with incessant chatter, loud noise and rowdy behaviour sometimes, they are still kids. At the end of the day, your students spend most of their early lives in the classroom with YOU.

A careful, precise equilibrium of honesty and respect, engaging lessons, and proactive encouragement - among many other things - can be achieved in the classroom. For when you one day reach that proper attunement where your lessons are being digested with wide-eyed interest by a group of 12-year-olds, and their hands are flying up with each question; pens drying out with all their writing, and test scores making you nod with pride, you will know: I did it. Followed by: I love my job.

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