Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Not all heroes wear a cape - teachers do an amazing job they really do, and it is a wonderful profession. The opportunity to change lives and inspire young people is like no other job. That is a perk of the job and as a teacher you know that. But so much has changed…
In my final two years of training and in my NQT year, the schools I was in had been visited by Ofsted. Nothing new there I know but I’m sure any teacher will tell you the stress levels go through the roof. As you gain experience, the more you get asked to do in a school. Again, this is probably no different to any other profession. The one difference then perhaps is that as a teacher you aren’t just expected to be a teacher - the role you applied for – the education provider. I’m sure most teachers watch the news to see what has been added to their daily tasks list. The role of the teacher has changed so much. The expectations of the teacher have changed. The amount they are asked to fit in to their timetable is almost, if not, impossible. I’m not going to go into this as it was never my intention in this post. What I’m trying to point out is that; expectations have changed, workload has changed, the pressure has changed and balancing work and life outside of school has been made so much more difficult.
Over the past 5 years or so mental health and wellbeing has really come to the forefront of our thinking. At the start of my time in my teaching role, around 12 years ago, I hadn’t even heard of mental health and wellbeing. Now, and rightly so, we are being made aware of the ways to identify the signs within ourselves and within others that something might not be quite right. More recently, the cost-of-living crisis has reared its ugly head and adds further stresses and strains on us. Now, as an adult, the implications to all this can be big. Time off through stress, illness or even the need to change career.
Now, what I’d like you to think about is what has changed for the pupils over the years?
Later in my career, I often mentioned to my teaching assistant that I really felt for the children in education today. The amount they are expected to take in. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember learning quite as many subjects as they do now in primary school. I remember thinking, right, we must start teaching our children this now or we need to add this lesson in at some point and wondering how on earth we were going to fit it all into the timetable.
Imagine, you are sat at the table first thing in the morning ready to learn. A quick maths warm-up ten questions based around SATs questions then the main course of maths (let’s say, multiplying fractions), followed by a timetables test, English (correct use of colons and semi-colons), don’t forget that weekly spelling test -come on we learnt the rule just last week. Throw in some reading comprehension – you mean you don’t know the meaning of the word bewilderment? That’s the morning wrapped up. On to the afternoon, French (so forget the English this morning, we are now on to masculine and feminine), and finally let’s say science (Evolution) – Oh how far we have come! I don’t know about you but I’m sure most adults would find that a tough day – brain frazzled! Now, roughly repeat that for another four days. How much would you be looking forward to the weekend? Your holidays? I think it is very easy to forget that they are children between the ages of 4-11 (yes, the lessons I have chosen to highlight are for the older children but I could provide similar examples for those younger children). Another question, how would you feel every morning before going in? It must be very difficult, stressful, and worrying for them. Throw in the added pressure of tests! Having spent some time in year 6, I’ve seen the pressure that is put on to the children. I’ve said it before, even before year 6 they are thinking about SATs. That’s so much stress and worry even before they start. We are talking about ten-year-old children. Surely this is an age where stress and worry shouldn’t even be in their vocabulary. Yes, the teacher has a job to do. They will undoubtedly try to make the pupils feel better about it all but they’re not miracle workers.
We know covid has had an impact on the whole world and again, as an adult, it’s a been a tough time. We have spent weeks/months indoors, unable to socialise, see loved ones or go on holiday. Children have been through exactly the same. Their primary education is a key time in their lives where they are developing social skills and they have missed several vital years. Speaking from experience, children have different rules and boundaries at home to at school. They are just expected to switch from one to another every day. But, during covid there were prolonged periods of just one and then suddenly, they must switch back. I don’t know about you, but I thrive on routine and can find change disruptive and difficult. Was this considered? Home-learning worked for some but not for others. Every family is different. Some just couldn’t dedicate their time to supporting their child as they had their own working from home commitments. Often, children had to solve problems on their own, not always a bad thing, but how demoralising when you’ve tried, don’t get it and have no-one to talk to to get help. They were just expected to adapt and get on with it. (Not all adults coped with this!) Now, they are just expected to ‘catch up’ on that ‘missed’ learning. Extra work with no time to fit it in! Sound familiar?
Let’s go back to that cost-of-living crisis for a minute. I’ve read a fair bit recently on the impact this is having on children. Many children out there are going without breakfast, so the responsibility then lies with the school to provide some sort of meal. Parents only being able to afford one meal a day. It all impacts on the child. I’ve said it a few times now, put yourself in that position – going to work having not eaten. Having to go until lunchtime before you can eat. I’m sure even as adults we’d find it difficult. Trying to concentrate on all the above is made that little bit harder.
Yet, with all considered, I hear, ‘we’ve all been through it, man-up, suck it up and get on with it’. Imagine being told that when you are under all that pressure at 10 years old. What happened to having fun? Yes, learning can be fun. Let me guess. The right planning? Takes time – oh you don’t have time for that in your day, that needs to be done in your own time. It’s a vicious circle? I digressed back to teachers, sorry! I truly believe that being a child today must be a fantastic time to be young. Playing games at home against your friends who live five miles away. Mobile phones linking you to your mates whenever you want them. However, and I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, it could be the worst time to be a child. Long gone are the days of if you fell out with someone it was sorted face to face. Now it’s so easy to send hurtful messages via a text, or on a group chat. That fall out at breaktime now goes into the evening and you can’t get away from it. Again, imagine yourself in that position.
Children are not able to put this right but as adults we must work together to ensure that we are there to care, understand, support, listen and respect our young ones as they have as much on as us at such a young age! I’ll leave you with this…