Teaching Primary & Building Relationships
I’ll be honest; I’ve spent a lot time thinking about what to write, about which aspect of teaching is most important to me. Let’s face it: none of us are merely educators of children any more. We are more than most people could ever imagine: we do more than play in the sandpit; take really long holidays; crowd control.
These are all things that have been said to me during my fourteen years in the profession (and all things which will rapidly get you off my Facebook friends list!) I could write from a leadership point of view (having been Key Stage Two leader and currently Foundation Phase leader). I could write as a teacher in Wales, battling the challenges of the new curriculum, as well as teaching lessons in a language I was never formally trained to speak myself. I could write as a musician, delivering creativity across the curriculum and engaging children in the arts as a vehicle for exciting learning. I could write as an NQT mentor, offering advice on survival and how to get through that endless mound of paperwork. I could write about the countless reasons why I remain in a job that frankly feels like pushing water uphill in a leaky bucket most days. Never has anything rung more true than this quote which still makes me smile.
The fact is, in teaching, everything is important. Everything is relevant. Everything you are asked to do is a ‘priority’ job. But (controversial opinion coming…) the most important, the most relevant, the ‘priority job’ is, and always will be, the children. It’s the reason the majority of us got into the job in the first place (let’s be fair, it’s certainly not the pay, or the 9 to 5!) and it’s what we must never lose sight of. New curricula, more paperwork than the Brexit negotiations, pressures from the government, the children are what come first. So with that in mind, here are some of my personal survival tips for the first few weeks:
Build relationships. This is the most important thing you will do all year. The children need to know your boundaries and expectations early on, but they also need to know they have an ally, someone to fight their corner, someone they can approach. Last year, I introduced this into my morning routine:
…and it has honestly revolutionised my relationships with the children. Although it can be time consuming (especially as some of them have invented their own handshakes – there’s a memory test, right there!) it gives those children an individual point of connection and also acts as their ‘check in’ time with me which so often gets overlooked once the ‘curriculum’ part of the day begins. I can ask Sophie how her rabbit is feeling, or compliment Sam on his new haircut which has got him feeling nervous to come into school. It’s honestly all but eliminated any early morning tears and I would highly recommend.
It’s also really important that you take time to build relationships with colleagues. There will be times throughout the year when we will all feel overwhelmed. Putting a cup of tea in someone’s hand at the stressiest time, or even sharing a silly meme on the group chat will remind everyone that, in the words of the classic movie:
- Self-care. Teachers are notoriously terrible at this. I don’t mean pulling a sickie (we all know it’s more hassle being off sick than battling through and teaching anyway!) I mean the acceptance that the ‘to-do’ list will never be complete. There will always be things to do, to plan, to make, to tidy, to relabel, to put on display. Filter what needs doing that day and what can wait. Being in school from 7am until 7pm and then going home to laminate until 1am (I’ve done it – the dark days of Inspection 2008) isn’t good for anyone’s wellbeing, least of all the children who are expecting a teacher who doesn’t need an afternoon nap (although if this is an option…?) Self-care relates to the old saying that ‘You can’t pour from an empty jug’. Eat lunch. Drink coffee and decompress with your colleagues. Sit in the sunshine at lunchtime (with laptops if you have to). Plan your own extra-curricular activities with friends (work ones included) and family. Make sure you and your class have something to look forward to, whether a school trip, an experience day, an exciting project hook.
- Keep it fresh, keep it exciting. Your children deserve a teacher who is enthusiastic, passionate and open-minded. For us, we make a point of new planning every year. We have a new project every term, often chosen by the children. We spend a long time planning an exciting project launch. We are sworn to secrecy to build the excitement and the children thrive on it! Last term, we learned about ‘Rumba in the jungle’ – expressive arts in South America, learning salsa dancing, eating burritos and making our own samba band for a carnival. For our project launch we secretly messaged the parents, asking them to send their children in in summer holiday clothes but not to say why. We set the hall up as an aeroplane, children had their passports stamped, teachers and TAs dressed up as cabin crew and the children experienced their own flight, complete with in-flight snacks (tortilla chips and guacamole!) They were still talking about it weeks later!
So no, we don’t just ‘play in the sandpit’ or ‘crowd control’. We motivate, we inspire. We provide stability and consistency. We demonstrate equity and fairness. We are nurses, dentists (I’ve seen more wobbly teeth since teaching Year 2 than most have in a lifetime!). We are counsellors, travel agents, librarians, psychologists, photographers, interior designers, detectives, entertainers. Our children deserve the best from us because they are the best. We wouldn’t do this job if they weren’t. We couldn’t.