As I sit here writing this blog I can’t help but think about all of the teachers I have come across this half term who are struggling to teach and build positive relationships with some of the more vulnerable children in their classrooms, despite wanting to help them very much. These teachers are the inspiration for this piece.
Increasing numbers of school children are suffering from adverse circumstances at home. Maybe they live with domestic violence, maybe they have been abused, maybe their mum and dad don’t get on, maybe they have been taken away from home and placed in foster care, maybe they feel unsafe because there is no routine at home and they have no idea what time to go to bed or what time they will eat. Life for many children is often very hard. Childhood for many children isn’t what we expect it to be.
The impact of traumatic experiences
Traumatic experiences impact the way in which children develop and in fact the way their brains wire together. Often they have maladaptive coping strategies that include running away, becoming very angry or withdrawing completely. They are constantly in a state of stress and their behaviour reflects this. These children are not ready to come into school and learn. How can they be? In order to learn we must feel safe, we must be fed and have slept well. We must have calm brains that are ready to take on new information and be challenged. Children who come from homes where trauma and adversity have been a prominent factor, do not have calm brains, they are not ready to take on new information and be challenged. In fact, their whole purpose is to survive and that is all they are trying to do, to get through the day.
As a result, in school, we are seeing an increase in behavioural problems. Teachers are faced with children who are unable to listen, concentrate, make positive relationships, understand their impact on others…the list goes on. They are faced with children who are not ready to learn.
So how can teachers teach, If the children are not coming into school ready to learn? There is an incongruity there.
Today, the role of a Teacher has changed. The word ‘Teacher’ takes on a whole new meaning. Maybe teaching is now not only about academic learning but about teaching children how to be emotionally intelligent, self-aware and resilient young people. There is a need for teachers to become almost like second parents, focusing on teaching children about interpersonal skills before any other learning can take place. Because of that, I believe we should be moving toward a new approach…a therapeutic teaching approach.
Teachers are feeling the strain
Since September I have met some very brave teachers who are obviously so passionate about their jobs and have trained as a teacher to make a difference. However, the strain of working with vulnerable children who are pushing boundaries and displaying challenging behaviour have left them feeling unequipped and questioning their competence and ability. Some have even questioned whether they are in the right profession. There are so many teachers out there feeling like this and it’s understandable. Teachers are not trained to be parents and yet they are taking the role of a parent more and more. The strain they feel isn’t because they are not good enough teachers and it isn’t because they have chosen the wrong profession. But It IS because they are not equipped. Nowhere have they been taught how to teach children with emotional wellbeing needs. Nowhere have they been taught how to parent children who are not biologically theirs. Without the skills and underpinning knowledge, teachers are being sent out into classrooms to fail.
Teachers need to be trained in basic theory about how trauma can affect the brain and about neuroscience, attachment and emotional intelligence (amongst other things). They should be given strategies in dealing with difficult behaviour, ones that are similar to parenting techniques because that’s what these children need. They should be taught activities to do with their class to help raise emotional intelligence and empathy for others. They should be supported and be empowered to go out there and TEACH. But not in the way they expect to.
‘But teachers have enough to do’, you might be thinking. Yes, but if we give teachers the skills they need to manage the emotional wellbeing of pupils in class and also strategies to develop it, we can have a huge impact on the learning outcomes and attainment of pupils.
How can we make a difference?
If we want to make a difference to the children and young people in our schools, we need to have emotional wellbeing at the core of what we do. Let’s teach vulnerable children that they can be loved, that they are noticed, that they matter, let’s focus on raising their self-belief, confidence, self-awareness and empathy. A result of which will be that we will suddenly be able to teach them maths and English too. That is the work of a therapeutic teacher.