Teacher Survival Advice
You’ve just won the lottery and you decide to say goodbye to teaching.
Rather than just running out of the door and never looking back you want whoever replaces you to benefit from your experiences and wisdom.
So you decide to write down your most essential survival advice as a memo.
Okay, so you haven’t won the lottery but imagine leaving your current position for something else – what advice would you really give?
Stephen D. Brookfield (1995) in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher urges us to press pause and to think about our roles. He says,
Writing this memo helps surface capacities and insights that teachers feel are crucial to success as they define it. What they write in the memo reveals the knolwedge they take seriously and the assumptions that most influence them.
This is also a way of getting in touch with your teacher-self again. We can all experience some disillusionment and feel disengaged but writing survival advice reminds us what we are capable of and what matters. It’s a great reflective tool and one that can be done individually or as part of staff training.
Brookfield says the memo contains our best take on the following:
- what a teacher needs to know how to survive in this job
- what she needs to be able to do to stay afloat
- what you know now that you wish someone had told you as you began your work in this position
- things your successor must make sure she avoids thinking, doing or assuming.
Brookfield encourages us to then think what is the most important piece of advice we have offered and how we know whether it is any good. What evidence do we have?
This is an important exercise because the advice we give has to be well-grounded and rooted in evidence. Is it warranted, accurate and valid? As Brookfield asks,
Was this evidence hearsay, observed actions, tested hypotheses, someone elses opinion, or something else?
When we engage with the Survival Advice Memo exercise then we can see what type or types of survival we are involved in, e.g. political, emotional, etc and where we are collecting our experiences from.
By writing down our advice, we can reflect on what factors have interacted to shape our outlooks and mindsets. We can then challenge our own thinking and reevaluate who we are and what makes us ‘a teacher’.
The Survival Advice Memo exercise is an effective way to help us examine any current assumptions we may have about teaching, learning, and our students.