‘The system pits teachers and pupils against each other’

Monday: Sophie puts her hand up after I have explained how to write a PEE paragraph for the second time. “Sir, I can’t do it,” she tells me. Sophie can do it. She did it last week and for homework. I sit with her until she overcomes her total lack of confidence and writes the paragraph. Tes reports. 

Wednesday: Miss Hayes comes into the staffroom frazzled. In her last lesson there were three pupils who were chatting among themselves while she was speaking: tired, stressed and on the edge, she sent them out without any warning.

In theory, these two incidents are not connected.

As a society, we like to compartmentalise these sorts of issues. But actually, they’re part of the same problem: low self-esteem in the classroom affects both pupils and teachers. While Sophie’s poor self-esteem prevented her from learning, Miss Hayes’ mood made her less likely to resolve her conflicts with pupils in a positive way.

My 12th year of teaching was awful. When I was in class, I was cranky, lacked patience and found it progressively harder to de-escalate conflicts with students. I lost the ability to spend the necessary extra time with the Sophies and Annas of my classes and started cutting corners with marking and lesson planning. I wasn’t coping, and ultimately I burnt out and left teaching for a while.

Pupils too experience this. It’s what happens when the system pits us against each other when we should be supporting each other.

To make things worse, when I was not coping, I felt ashamed that this was the case and I developed strategies to “hide” my distress. Ultimately teachers have a choice: they can leave. Pupils don’t have this luxury. Instead they act out and misbehave.

Teachers and pupils mirror each other all the time. As a teacher, I often got the sense that the pupils could almost “smell” when I had not slept well or was not at my best. I used to joke that office workers could have “off-days” but not teachers. When this did happen, my lessons and relationships with my pupils would suffer, which would increase my sense of shame and lower my self-esteem – and decrease the quality of their learning time with me. It was a vicious circle.

I realised that teachers all experienced similar issues and that by focusing on what we could control – ourselves, our emotional states and a positive sense of self – we could begin to foster really great relationships with our pupils, experiment in class and grow ever more competent as teachers.

Read the full article ‘The system pits teachers and pupils against each other’

Please tell us your thoughts in comment sor via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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