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Knowing Pupils

Parent’s Evening. My first as an NQT. I looked around the room and watched the last few parents and students shuffle around a now almost empty PE hall and took another sip of my now two-hours old cup of tea. Almost time to leave. Can’t yet, deputy head is still on the exit door scanning for anyone hoping to make a quick escape.

A young girl approaches my desk with a young-ish woman (Mum? Older sister?) and they sit down. I start to panic – I DON’T KNOW WHO SHE IS!! I think she’s Y8…Is it Amelia? Olivia? Emma…? There is an awkward silence. I brush the biscuit crumbs off the desk and shuffle through my printed spreadsheets. Nice of you to come! What can I say? We’re doing OK, You need to be a bit more confident and try the more challenging questions. Thanks for coming, see you later. They leave. I sigh with relief. Deputy head has gone. Another sigh of relief.

Ten years later and it occurred to me how un-me this was. I went into teaching to connect with students, and here was a girl who I shared a room with for three hours a week, but couldn’t remember anything about her. She wasn’t the only one either. You remember the brilliant kids, the ones who really buy into your teaching style and chat to. You remember the rogues – the really naughty, disengaged ones…but what about the kids in the middle? The ones who just potter along, never acting out but never really excelling?

Ten years later and I’m HoD in a Special School (SEMH). 100 kids on the roll, all with unique personalities. All with issues, but knowing exactly what makes them tick means with classes of eight you can have a big impact on classroom dynamics with some simple tweaks. We are in constant contact with parents and carers, we know what time they went to bed, what they had for breakfast, and whether they’re in a good mood or had a row before school. We can plan and manage, and tailor the day to suit the child’s needs. It occurred to me that if I’d taken this approach to my forty faceless middle-ability students, I could have really connected with them. It may have also meant being on the phone in the school office every night until 9pm…

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The author

Chris is currently Head of Department in an SEMH secondary school with caters for young people with behavioural and mental health issues. He has worked in a number of secondary schools and academies in the North East of England over the past fifteen years. He decided to start a blog to share his experiences of going from a disillusioned NQT to being a disillusioned mainstream teacher to being a highly successful special needs science leader. You can contact Chris and follow his journey on Twitter @bunsenlearner

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