Support

This is another for http://www.teachsecondary.com – a magazine that features some great stuff on the subject of secondary teaching. In this issue there are people who aren’t me for some reason so that’s an added bonus on what is an already sweet deal. Click on the link to subscribe.

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“I need some help.”

It’s a variation of a statement uttered countless times in the classroom. Some hands shoot up like rockets, confident that all will become clear if they only make their problem known. Others snake up, then back down, then up again –  unsure as to the validity of their question, their position, themselves.

And we go to them (unless it’s Devon. Devon’s got that smirk on his face that he gets when he’s figured out how to phrase a question in such a way as to turn it into a particularly disgusting double entendre, so you’re now tactically ignoring him as to not give him the satisfaction). We go to them because it’s our job and we can help. We want them to do their best and we can go some part way to guiding them. And (let’s not beat around the bush here) there is a kick to be had by sending these kids on their way to the fabled land of understanding. It would be a pretty awful teacher who ignored these requests for a bit of assistance.

(unless it’s Devon. C’mon Devon, seriously kid, pack it in. Ugh.)

And yet, when teachers are struggling and make the step of asking for a little bit of support themselves, the response can be a tad less, well…responsive. Workload where the load is just too much work, behaviour that is anything but and numerous other pressures often befall us. It’s difficult enough to ask for help in these situations as something about the job means that such a request can be extremely painful to make. We often internalise the problems we encounter and view them as indicators of weakness and failure in ourselves rather than the systems that we find ourselves in (this, sadly, can be further reinforced by the weird concept still held dear by many that children are mere programmable puppets and if we pull the correct strings, we can make them dance, sing, and leave the greater influences of their home lives behind them with a swift tug).

Basically, it can take a lot for us to put our hands up. And even if we get over that initial hurdle there’s no guarantee that help will be forthcoming. Unrealistic expectations of what a teacher can do in the hours they have in school (and out school), a blame culture that shifts an obviously institutional problem on to the individual, a reliance on goodwill to paper over the cracks that are so readily apparent, a blind adherence to systems that disregard the reality of a situation, and (let’s continue to be honest here as I’m in full-on rant mode) a tendency for us teachers to put up with things that we really shouldn’t be putting up with for the good of the kids (whatever that means); all these elements combine in an unholy smokescreen of excuses as to why we should just shut up, think ourselves lucky and get the hell on with it.

We wouldn’t do that to the kids (OK, I would probably do that to Devon, but honestly, it’s sheer filth that comes out of his mouth most times) and yet, for the reasons listed and more, it’s often the case that we put up with it ourselves. That it’s expected we put up with it.

And we so often do. Right up until the point where we can’t anymore.

I’m not saying this is everywhere. There are places that readily accept the responsibility and importance of giving support to their staff, of valuing those who work with children and thereby valuing the children themselves. There are places where those who are struggling are able to tell others, safe in the knowledge that they will be listened to, judgement will be minimal and help will be forthcoming. Places where hard work has gone into shaping the culture and ethos that allow and even encourage staff to put their hand up. As it should be.

Perhaps we need to start treating this type of workplace as an expectation ourselves; as something that is taken for granted and, if it is amiss, something that gives us serious pause for thought as to what is going on and whether we want to be part of it.

When they put their hands up, they expect to be helped. Why not the same for us?

(Shut up, Devon.)

Thanks for reading.

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2 comments

  1. dholme14

    Oh, how I love your comments about Devon! Yes, it was super difficult for me as a first year teacher last year to deal with kids like Devon (I had and will still have one I dubbed “feral child.” That may sound cruel, but the other teachers shudder and pray at the mention of him). My inability to make all of the students perfect seemed like a self-failing at the time, and it took me about 3 horrible, Dante’s Inferno weeks to ask for help. Between having 5 preps with no curriculum and no mentor teacher, I was on the verge of quitting. Fortunately I have a great principal and am surrounded by truly wonderful teachers, and I am starting to get over the trauma of last year. Why is it, though, that the education system as a whole seems to throw us into the fires of Mordor as a rite of passage? I don’t know the answer to that yet, but tell me if you figure it out, please!

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