A recent ‘Secret Teacher’ blog on the Guardian has again raised the question of what role teachers are primarily expected to fulfil. Many teachers today are torn between their primary role of educating pupils, and the increasingly more demanding job of ensuring that pupils’ mental and emotional health is sufficiently cared for. Without this, the educational aspect of a teacher’s job becomes somewhat defunct, as these pupils are unlikely to be receptive in school lessons anyway.
Pointing out that “teaching standards are great at telling us how to teach good lessons”, but that they offer “no help whatsoever” in terms of addressing children’s emotional needs, the ‘Secret Teacher’ argued that teaching nowadays means being a parent, social worker and teacher, all in one.
The difficulties faced by pupils in this teacher’s class ranged from sexual assault, to traumatic medical issues suffered by close family members, to the acrimonious divorce of their parents. With no training in how to deal with such issues, the teacher has highlighted real gaps in teacher training, which fails to acknowledge the realities of children’s everyday lives and how teachers should respond to these.
As statutory guidance advises teachers to “at all times observe boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s profession”, it can be difficult for teachers to comfort pupils who have had traumatic experiences. What boundaries are professional and appropriate when a six-year-old breaks down and asks their teacher for help? Such guidance leaves some teachers feeling helpless, unable to provide pupils with the care and compassion they so clearly need.
Though it is clear that these statutory guidelines are designed to protect pupils from the rare instances where education professionals would cause harm, nevertheless, such restrictions leave a void in terms of children’s access to support. When pupils trust a teacher enough to disclose personal, sensitive information, there needs to be avenues whereby the teacher can show immediate support.
While some issues clearly need to be followed-up via appropriate channels, for example, instances of sexual assault cannot and should not be treated with a compassionate ear and a hug; in other cases it would breach the child’s trust and cause unnecessary anxiety to take their concerns further.
Where a child’s facing an upsetting situation outside of school, whether it poses any kind of immediate harm or not, the teachers they trust to share this information with should be properly trained to deal with it.
For more information on what to do if you suspect a child is experiencing abuse, please visit our child protection and safeguarding policy topic. http://www.theschoolbus.net/topics/child-protection-and-safeguarding-policy/489.