After working in youth mental health for three years, I am venturing back into the classroom. I will be taking some valuable insights with me.
Working in schools during the first wave of the pandemic gave me the opportunity to learn new skills (Wow! What a sharp learning curve!) & test my versatility. Stepping away from the classroom after this opened my eyes wider than 20 years in education ever could. Our perception of events is so coloured by our position, environment & habits. Here’s a bit of what I noticed.
The mental health crisis was always there, Lockdown lifted the lid. With the combination of high emotion, time for expression & abnormal structure it finally bubbled over. The behavioural issues that many schools have been attempting to “suppress” were actually young people clamouring to be heard amid a cacophony of OFSTED, Data and acronyms.
The games are up. The exam fiasco, marking and subsequent grading of standardised tests allowed parents and children to see the futility, inappropriateness & irrelevance of many of the hoops they are expected to jump through. The disenchantment & apathy felt by many now results from realising that there is not the urgency that we were once whipped up into feeling.
Change is coming. Cracks are appearing in society. Inequalities have been illuminated in the public sphere. Shortages of key workers & subsequent strike action have made it all too obvious that our education and training systems need a rethink and rapidly.
The helpers are making a difference. Slowly but surely the compassion & empathy of these unique, vibrant souls are slipping into the cracks and fusing things back together. People need to feel cared for. The new buzzword is “belonging”. It makes me laugh that this is a “trend”. It was never absent from my teaching. Teachers for centuries have focused on welcoming, integrating & establishing safe spaces for learners. It is only the waves of Gurus and Tsars that have changed the dialogue elsewhere. Schools are meant to be warm, kind, loving spaces.
My boundaries have changed. I have a husband, a brother recovering from stage 4 cancer who is learning to walk again, a vulnerable mother and elderly parents. In short, I have a life that needs me. So there will be no more days with no glimpse of daylight. There will not be a response to undue emotional manipulation. I will still give with my whole heart but I’m shutting off a huge chunk to take the undue pressure off.
I’m not doing this for a system. I will not destroy or bully young people because of progress levels or data. Either you value education or you buy into destructive narratives of constant measuring for the sake of external scrutiny. I will teach with passion. I will be thorough. I will engage every spark of curiosity & imagination. I will do all I can to promote a love of learning. If that doesn’t result in the right results, then the measuring stick is wrong.
I will know my worth. A decent educator is a magician among people. They capture the shimmering gold threads of potential & weave them into incredible, dazzling tapestries of learning. They are a multitude of providers: therapist, coach, mentor, nurse, parent, dietician, peacemaker… The current retention & recruitment crisis is because this magic has been undervalued for too long. I will work for my salary. I will earn my coin but never again will I feel like I am beholden to the system. Guilt has no place in this. It is time learning in its entirety and reality was valued!!
There’s more I will take forward: eating a proper lunch, hydrating and therefore answering nature’s call at the behest of my bladder, not the bell. I shall laugh more and attempt to cry and complain less. I will remember who the customer is and ensure they are always my focus. I will do all this knowing that there is a viable & pleasant alternative to teaching available to me should I ever need it. I am not trapped. I have the control.
So, it is with several years of nightmare-free sleep under my belt that I return to school. I shall read this back after week one and see if I have made a hypocrite of myself!
Cate has been a teacher for 20 years. She has worked internationally and across all key stages in the UK. Her secondary specialism is Performing Arts with a keen interest in PSHE/RSE. Cate is recently married with two cats who keep her busy and an allotment that requires more time than she can give it!
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