So I’m taking a break from the classroom.
This half term sees the start of my sabbatical – a career break to spend more time with the family and also a chance to review what I would like to do next in terms of my profession.
It’s given me the chance to reflect on what I’ve learned as a secondary school teacher over the years.
What tips and tricks would I pass on to newly qualified teachers if I had the chance?
When I first became a teacher there was a phrase that newly qualified teachers were told.
‘Don’t Smile until Christmas’.
At the time I took it with a pinch of salt but I understood the sentiment.
You are definitely not the students’ friend. Don’t act like one.
And while I agree that teachers need to be clear about their boundaries and expectations with their students, in many ways I disagree with this statement. Without smiling it is hard to build relationships with your students, and without these connections it is hard to really help and support them in their learning and well-being.
We need to connect with our students. Emotional intelligence, compassion, good communication skills and much more, all need to be modeled and yet the more teachers are forced to focus on assessment the less emphasis is placed on these ‘softer skills’. So, in this last blog post about my time as a secondary school teacher for a while, I’ve outlined the seemingly trivial things that I did every day, but actually that with hindsight, made a big difference.
Sometimes I felt I gave so much of my energy in the classroom, that my own children missed out, so I am also listing them here to remind parents too that not only are these important things to do at school, but they are also very helpful to keep in mind at home too.
DO smile during your day
Who wants to be in the company of someone who never smiles? Not me!
A smile can lift the atmosphere in a room and often will be mirrored by the people in the presence of the person who is smiling. Smiling definitely helps us connect with people and keeps our own mood lifted too so it would be silly to NOT smile during a whole working day.
Think about it in terms of parenting too. How often does a parent truly and genuinely smile at their children? Lots I hope. But possibly not as much as you may think. Parents, if on autopilot, may feel too busy playing taxi driver and chief cook and bottle washer, to take time to share regular smiles and laughs with their children. I realised this some time ago as I am not naturally a ‘smiley’ person (I can be quite earnest at times and I don’t like my teeth so try to hide them!) . Now I’ve noticed this I have made a real effort to smile more and seemingly I get lots more lovely smiles back too! Win-Win.
Turn up and be attentive. As teachers we can be tapping away on our keyboards far too often these days. Or we are having a conversation with a student but thinking of 101 other things too. Young people are on to us. They pick up on this really easily.
Ever been in an assembly surreptitiously trying to catch up on a few emails? Put the device down and watch the student band in front of you instead.
Give them a cheer and be supportive. That performance means a lot to them. We need to show we understand this. I think this is getting lost in educational establishments as teachers are under such stress due to workload.
Obviously the same can be said for parents too. Be present. Be there in mind as well as body. Make eye contact. Put the smartphone or device away.
Remember the little things about individuals you teach and ask them about them. You know that kid in the class who supports Arsenal? Ask them what they reckon to the new choice of manager.
Someone got an interview at a particular university? Remember to check how it went the next time you see them.
With our own children this can be quite hard sometimes. I guess it’s about remembering specifics from previous days and following up. “You mentioned you were doing an art project on William Morris yesterday. How did you get on with it today?”
“Did you play again today with so and so at nursery?” You may still only get a brief answer but at least you are showing you remember when you do get a little bit of detail from them about their day.
Remember what it was like to be 13?
Remember your world when you were 8?
Remember life as a 17 year old?
Sometimes I think adults are too quick to forget that things we think are insignificant now, are really important to us in our younger years.
We should do our best not to down-play that first heartbreak, those falling outs with friends, the mountain of homework the child feels is overwhelming. It’s easy to be dismissive but to show understanding will be much more helpful both in a teaching or a parenting role.
Meet and Greet
In my classroom I use the register as a quick barometer at the beginning of a lesson for how students are.
Yes, it’s a snapshot but it’s amazing the clues you can get about a student’s well-being just by taking the register meaningfully. Greeting, eye contact, response, a check of the student’s body language. On to the next name on the list. And repeat. My Year 11s ‘got it’. The younger ones ‘got it’. They would always look up and give me eye contact and I felt respected the process.
As parents how often do we ‘check-in’ with our own children when we pick them up from nursery or from school or when they return to us from a day out?
Do we have a meaningful exchange? Do we take the opportunity to pick up on their body language? Often everyone is so busy and rushed this may not happen. It is definitely worth building into your day.
And there you have it, my alternative ‘to-do’ list for teachers new to the job. Also, a reminder to other people who spend a lot of time with children and young people too.
What do you do to build connections with the children in your life?
Either as a teacher or as a parent?
I’d love to hear your ideas.