Sometimes even the most caring and hard-working teachers struggle with the complexity of their roles and responsibilities. Consider an article currently on the Guardian’s website:
Secret Teacher: I feel like more of a social worker than a teacher
I have three roles in my classroom: teacher, parent and social worker. Sometimes the actual teaching part is the least important
Many teachers assume their role should essentially be a driver of academic success in tests and exams – and feel thwarted by having to attend to other aspects of a child’s wellbeing. From the article it’s clear that this particular ‘secret teacher’ is no Gradgrind, and is someone who cares deeply about children who are unable to focus on the taught curriculum and fail to make academic progress as a result of emotional and psychological factors which originate outside of the classroom. However:
1. Teachers are not ‘parents’ of other people’s children.
2. Teachers are not social workers – a profession that’s radically different from teaching.
3. The role of every teacher is complex and multi-faceted, and includes responsibility for the holistic development of every child.
4. Teachers must be aware of and must act on any signs of failure to thrive and/or failure to make academic progress as a result of ongoing or temporary factors impacting on children’s physical, social, spiritual and psychological wellbeing.
5. Teachers are responsible for the overall wellbeing of children and are gatekeepers to other professionals who may become part of the team around any child who has distinct special needs – which includes educational psychologists, student mentors, social workers, medical practitioners, etc. If teachers fail to understand this part of their role then we should rethink the basic training given to teachers.
6. Being attentive to and empathetic with a distressed child is not the same as being a ‘parent’ – it’s an essential part of any teacher’s job. Immediate support for such children should be available in the classroom in the first instance from teaching assistants and/or student mentors and it’s the teacher’s job to ensure that this support is offered. If parents are failing in their duty to give proper care and attention then the school must act to remedy the situation. Such action begins with the trained teacher.
7. It should be clear, therefore, that teachers are much more than repositories of subject knowledge whose job is to ensure academic success. By all means let intellectual and academic progress continue to be the main focus of the job, but consider also:
8. It takes a whole school to raise a child, and all members of staff, especially teachers, carry a responsibility for the all-round development of every child – including the personal, social and emotional, plus the spiritual, moral and cultural.
9. Teachers carry a responsibility for the growth of social intelligence in every child
Allowing and enabling children to interact, collaborate and communicate in the classroom facilitates the growth of social intelligence – whereas insisting that children learn in isolation, especially in a highly competitive classroom culture, does the opposite.
10. Teachers need to have an awareness of the state of a child’s mental health, and need to know what action is required if and when concerns are raised.
11. Teachers have a responsibility for wellbeing, safeguarding and health & safety.
12. At a time when yet more atrocities have been committed by individuals who appear to possess miniscule amounts of spiritual intelligence (in spite of their ‘religious’ affiliations), who have no morals and no emotional literacy, we suggest every teacher thinks seriously about what part they play – both informally and formally – in developing these areas of humanity in young people. No-one can opt out of this: not if we wish to live in a peaceful, decent and non-violent society.
Can schools and teachers make a real difference to the type of society we live in? Yes they can and yes they do. There’s been a measurable improvement in our crime statistics and whilst we don’t claim that teachers are the sole factor in this we do say that teachers have a major impact on young people’s attitude to themselves and others. Education is still our best hope for a good society.
“We have many young people who can be easily influenced”, said someone on a news programme today. We have an opportunity in schools to ensure that young people are much better prepared for positive citizenship and are much less vulnerable and less open to negative and downright evil influences. We now need a society and an education system with a proper sense of priorities.
Needless to say, we also need sufficient schools, better student-teacher ratios, better systems of accountability, less teaching to tests, a proper focus on the personal, social, spiritual and emotional aspects of learning, and more emphasis on enjoyment of learning for its own sake.