Young chemistry student with hand on fire (iStock)

If you could travel back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would you warn yourself about a career in education? Science teacher Tyler Berrigan hasn’t figured out the physics, but he knows just what he’d say.

Thinking back to who I was when I started my teaching degree, two words spring to mind: naive and idealistic. Naturally, there are things that — if my wise, laconic self were to meet my sanguine, starry-eyed self of yesteryear — I would be sure to mention about a career in teaching.

So here they are, my top three things I wish I’d known.

1. Shock horror! Your students may not be as interested in your subject area as you are

Whether it is a dynamite piece of eloquent prose in English or a drool-worthy algebraic function in mathematics, you may find that sometimes your students don’t get quite as excited as you do about it.

As a budding science teacher, I wholeheartedly believed that my students, like me, would find all aspects of science truly fascinating. This mutual obsession was going to be the driving force behind many marvellous and engaging science lessons. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always the case.

Of course, some are genuinely enthralled by science and others can be brought over to the dark side with some targeted effort. But there are those students who — unless something is on fire, makes a loud bang, is being cut up or can be wiped on another student’s white school shirt — feel science is about as interesting as a snail playing lawn bowls.

2. Expect the unexpected — I mean really

To some extent teaching is a profession that prides itself on variety. That’s one of the reasons we love it. However, there are just some things you totally do not expect. Just when you are 100 percent certain a student won’t do something utterly ludicrous and nonsensical, they do it.

Here’s a personal thought sequence I had a little while back: “He’s just put a random item in the Bunsen flame for the umpteenth time and it’s alight. It’s okay, I’ve told him to put it in the sink and immediately douse it with cold water … But wait, why’s he heading for the wastepaper bin? He’s telling me he’s going to take care of it. Surely, he’s not going to put an item engulfed in flames into a bin full of paper … But he is heading in that direction … No, he’s not is he? … Yep! He did it! He put it in the paper bin! Put out raging inferno.”

Whether it’s scraping up and eating some unidentifiable muck off the playground concrete or climbing out a window, just when you think, “surely no-one would to do that“, they do it. They say that to teach you need eyes in the back of your head. I say you need eyes all over your head. I’m sure many readers have had similar, if not crazier experiences.

3. At times, your colleagues are harder to work with than your students are

To me, education is like a monumental sailing ship, churning its way through the seas of expectation. The crew on that ship is made up of people from a vast array of backgrounds, with different perspectives as to where the ship should be sailed and how. That is the nature of the beast.

When the stakes are high, and the stakeholders varied, it can create a subtle feeling of competition and distrust. In fact, a large majority of my negative experiences as a teacher have originated from something a colleague has said or done, not a student.

I digress. Suffice to say, that I’m sure most teachers would have a thing or two to say about staff room politics.

Agree with my top three?

So, there you have it. My top three things I wish I’d known before starting my teaching degree. I can’t help but think to the future, as I picture myself sitting back in my rocking chair by a smouldering fire, sipping single malt and musing about my career in teaching, that there are many more twists and turns to come. I guess that means there’ll be many more helpful tidbits for my time travelling, starry-eyed self.