This year my son has started high school. The first week of school has been tough. He has flitted between joy and terror all week. It has been a unique experience for me, as a teacher, to see how starting a new school or class can affect a child when they go home. So here is my letter to the teachers that have made my son's first week both good and bad. It also serves as a reminder to myself about my own teaching practice.
Dear Shouty Teacher
Do you realise you caused my son difficulty going to sleep this week?
I realise you may be jaded with your job. I realise that teaching teenagers, some of them very difficult teens with behavioural issues, can sometimes make you feel more like a probation officer than an educator. I realise that you already know 80% of your students and what teaching style they respond best to. I realise that you feel the need to set your stall out early to set behavioural expectations for the rest of the year but I wonder how much you realise about the eleven year old children who have joined you for the first time this week.
Do you realise that until six weeks ago the children who have now joined you had spent their entire education in a small, protected, reassuring environment where everyone knew their name? Do you realise that until six weeks ago these children were used to having the same teacher in the same classroom for every lesson? Do you realise that over the last six weeks the children now joining you have been excited and terrified in equal measure and it has been down to you this week to confirm for them which emotion was the most accurate reflection of what was to come? Do you realise that they are facing so many challenges for the first time this week from finding their way around school to getting on a bus on their own for the first time? Do you realise that, though they may now be squeezed into ties and blazers and look like mini grown ups, the majority of the eleven year olds joining you still love to watch Pixar movies, may have a beloved soft toy at home and get tucked up by their parents at night? Do you realise they have only been alive for around 150 months? They aren't adults, they aren't teens, they are still children.
Dear Shouty Teacher, please know that when you shouted at that child for a minor infringement this week when they are only just learning the rules of high school you terrified them. You embarrassed them at a time when they are trying so hard to make new friends and you made them feel very small and scared indeed, even if they didn't show it. Dear Shouty Teacher, please know that when my son sat in class, having never been in real trouble in his life before, and saw the way you treated that child you set in stone his opinion of you for the rest of his time in high school and when he came home he worried late into the night about getting in trouble for something minor and unavoidable then did not want to come to school the next day. Did you know that the child you shouted at and gave a behaviour point to because they were late to class was only late because the shouty teacher before you shouted at him for not having a pencil and made him stay for five minutes after class? That meant he had to find your class on his own and he got lost. In his first week at big school. He is already sad and scared. It is your job to make him feel safe not worse.
Dear Shouty Teacher please remember that you are far scarier than you think to little boys and girls starting in your class for the first time. They are not difficult teenagers who are troublesome in class yet but you are the one who may make them into those children. You are the one who controls whether the children in your class are despondent or enthused learners. You are the one who dictates how easy and fun or difficult and soul destroying your teaching career can be.
Sad Mum :(
P.S. If you are shouty and strict ALL of the time how will they know when you are really seriously angry?!?
And now to those teachers who made my son's first week a good one .....
Dear Smiley Teacher
You may have heard that some teachers have made my child not want to come to school this week. Let me start by saying that you are not one of them. Luckily he found he had far more smiley teachers than shouty ones. Hurray for that!
You welcomed my child to your classroom with a big smile. Your lesson was well planned, interesting and fun. You were enthusiastic about teaching and about the subject matter. My child came home excited and proud and remembered what you had taught him. Not only that but he spent two hours doing independent work to carry on his learning (in case you were wondering he used You Tube to teach himself how to play Smoke on the Water on the guitar after you taught him the first line of it in class).
You were one of the several teachers who made my son happy to be in high school. Believe me, he needed the boost after a few shouty teachers made him scared and sad. Your classroom was a safe haven, a sea of calm, an island of inspiration. Thank you for being a teacher who loves to teach, a teacher who is happy to be there, one of the reasons we chose your school in the first place - for its happy teachers. Thank you for not making me regret choosing to send my first born child to your school.
You don't know that my son has had a couple of difficult years with changes in his home life or that he is the type of child that worries about getting in trouble. You don't know that the child sat next to him might have spent his whole time at primary school getting in trouble. You don't know that the girl on the back row has always been the one who has struggled to learn. You have welcomed all of the children into your class with equal amounts of positive vibes. You have given them all the unique chance of casting off their primary school personality and reinventing themselves as new children who are ready to achieve and we all deserve the chance to reinvent ourselves each school year, especially children.
You our are the teacher I am thankful for, the teacher who keeps the hope alive that my child will enjoy high school. The teacher I aspire to be myself.
Dear Me as an Early Years Teacher
You have spent years welcoming children to your class. Let this high school starter experience serve as a reminder about the impact you, your mood and your approach to teaching have on the children in your care and how the results last far longer than the time when they leave your classroom at half past three each day. Please try to remember these things every day that you teach (even when you are overworked and tired and suffering from the lack of sleep that having three children guarantees).
1. You may be telling one child off but remember that 29 other children are listening and some of those children may take the telling off to heart just as much as the child who has done something wrong (as a side note is the thing you are telling them off for really that bad? Would it not be a better approach to remember your early years ethos and take the better approach of sitting down for a chat with them instead?)
2. Tone of voice can have more of an impact than the words you use. Don't be a shouty teacher. Shouty gets you nowhere.
3. You are the one who has the most impact on whether a child wants to come to school or not. Make them WANT to come to school. Use your power for good!
4. You may instantly forget how you have spoken or acted during any given day but the children don't and it is something which plays on their mind even when they get home. Help them to have happy memories not sad ones.
5. Remember that you are looking after the most precious thing in someone's life. Someone out there would kill or die for that child. Feel lucky to be an important part of their life and treat that privilege with the gravity and joy it deserves.
6. Remember that all children come to you with different experiences and emotions from home. They may not have had a good night.
7. Remember to appreciate and treat every child as an individual and give them the opportunity to reinvent themself every day
8. Find something to love in every child and remember how young they are. You have jeans in your wardrobe that are older than the children in your class!
9. Be the teacher you wish your child had not the one you hope they don't get. If you don't have children just imagine pulling your heart out of your body and entrusting it to a virtual stranger for seven hours a day with nothing but faith, hope and a prayer that it will be returned safe and well to you. Sending your child to school feels pretty much like that. But worse.