Does being a parent help you become a more mindful teacher?
Being a Mum of a year 7 student starting secondary school has made me really reflect on my past. Especially in my role as a form tutor and teacher for 16 years …
Starting secondary school
I am seeing several of my son’s friends have difficulty starting secondary school. There is a myriad of reasons behind some of these difficulties; some of them stem from parental issues at home, which all have a negative effect on transition. I have noticed:
- Children with working parents have to fend for themselves until their parents arrive home.
- Parents who struggle with their own lives can’t and don’t know what is happening in their child’s daily lives.
- Children with parents who might not have had an education and either don’t value it or don’t know what questions to ask the school.
These perspectives have made me reflect on my practice as a teacher.
My role as a form tutor
If I had another opportunity to be a form tutor, with hindsight as a parent, I understand there is so much more I would try and do. I loved being a form tutor, I loved the impact I had on my students’ personal lives.
I would listen, talk and treat them like young adults. I cared, and I showed this in so many simple ways. I would remember things, establish a consistent routine, and be reliable. They could count on me to be there for them every single school day.
What if I could do more?
Being on the other side of the fence and being a parent helps you see what it’s like for a year 7 starting secondary school. Issues such as:
- The new building
- Finding your way around
- Students pushing you about
- Wearing a new uniform
- Having to be organised
- Doing homework and handing it in on the right day.
All these points are simple considerations in isolation, but they are huge areas to navigate for an 11-year-old.
My son has been pushed on the stairs, kicked for no reason, and had his bag stolen and dumped.
Luckily, with support at home, we contacted the school and they reassured us what support they offered to ensure these events don’t happen again. However, what if he didn’t have someone to tell? What if his parents didn’t have the time to report it? What if no one cared or asked about his day?
As teachers, we know we teach many pupils without the support network they require.
This morning, my son panicked on the way to school because he thought he had forgotten his French homework. Thankfully, it turned out that he had already handed this in the previous day.
This week he has been very tired and in tears over homework set.
We have a small whiteboard at home where we write down all his homework and when it’s due. That’s ‘the teacher in me!’ You would think the ‘doing it’ would be the hard bit, but it’s also the organising and ‘remembering to take it in on’ for the right teacher on the correct day is just as challenging.
We don’t explicitly teach our pupils ‘how to be organised’ at school. This cannot be left to parents if we want all young people to succeed.
So far, he is happy doing his homework the day it’s set, and he recognises that it’s best to get it done as more will be coming. He strives to do well and aims to please. I check his planner weekly, and we pack his school bag together the night before.
I’m not sure how long his attitude will last and at what point I should start to let him take full responsibility. My son sometimes finds change hard; routines make him feel safe and less anxious.
If I could do it again?
If I were a teacher again, I would find new ways to identify children who need some extra support. Prevention is always preferable to cure. Did I do enough? Yes – but it doesn’t stop me from thinking that I could have done more to prevent detentions or prevent a child from developing mental health issues.
When teachers have the time to delve deeper, some issues can be easily and sensitively resolved. Which, in turn, would support a smoother secondary transition. On this, we could do much better as a profession. Perhaps we should all start with these simple questions to ask ourselves at the start of each school day:
- What can I do to help any pupil?
- What genuine reasons could explain why a child never has their planner signed?
- Why does a child never do their homework / or to a poor standard?
- Why is this pupil late to school?
There is no such thing as a bad person, there is an affected person – often with a plausible reason behind some of the disorganisation or anxiety you may see in a child – standing in front of you.