By Laura Vida Wilkinson
Being a class teacher is rewarding, but tough. Mental and physical stamina and a healthy self-esteem are required to juggle parents, paperwork, colleagues and children. Every parent knows what it is like to be responsible for a child. When the children are not your own and you are under constant scrutiny, the pressure may be all the more keenly felt. For me, teaching often felt like being on stage. As teachers, we had to exude confidence and professionalism, however sleep-deprived or anxious we felt. Time ‘off-stage’ was spent rehearsing past performances or mulling over future ones.
That teacherly act of being in control was normally just that. Every day sprang surprises, often at the most unwelcome times: a mischievous new child with no English or additional needs, a hungry child, a bully, a neurotic or mentally unstable mother, more assessments, requests for data, inspections, yet another meeting, timetable changes etc. Swiftly, I came to dread the arrival of the school janitor, whose appearance in the evenings meant that I had run out of time. So many skills are needed to teach. Ideally, a teacher is also a child psychologist, a nurse, a special needs expert, a counsellor and, fundamentally, a highly intelligent, authoritative figure: without boundaries children do not listen, they do not feel safe and they cannot learn.
The grit and dogged determination required to establish and maintain the ideal climate for learning should not be underestimated. Neither should the monumental organisational skills that are required both inside and outside the classroom; nor the energy that is required to direct up to thirty individuals (including support staff and volunteers) at once. Each child’s social, emotional and academic needs are so different and often conflicting. Thus, teaching is always an imperfect art. Like Sisyphus, you roll your boulder up the slope in the knowledge that the top is unreachable, no matter how hard you try. And local councillors, politicians, parents and even colleagues often unexpectedly raise the bar. In the state sector, only the most resilient, the blinkered and the merely indifferent or desensitised tend to persevere until retirement.
Before approaching a teacher, any sensitive parent will bear the above in mind. However, a huge proportion of a child’s time is spent out of school and home experiences should complement, extend and enrich school ones. No teacher, tutor or parent can do it alone. If you are at all worried about any aspect of your child’s education, ask the school secretary for an appointment to see their teacher. Should you still feel concerned, meet the headteacher too. Every good school values communication since it promotes a child’s well-being.
What sort of information can I expect from a class teacher?
One detailed update on your child’s social and academic progress each term. This is when you will be made aware of your child’s targets in Literacy and Numeracy.
If your child is not meeting or exceeding expectations (considerably) in Reading, Writing or Maths, staff should let you know what is being done and what you can do before Christmas.
What key information should the school provide?
An outline of what your child is learning in each core subject.
The expectations for homework: How long your child is expected to read for each day and which book (at primary level); the spellings they should practise each week; the relevant maths facts (number bonds, times tables etc.) and how to practise them.
Written policies on the following: Behaviour Management, Anti Bullying, Special Needs, Home Learning, Literacy and Numeracy teaching, Phonics.