Summer term and the living is queasy

The exam season can be as stressful for teachers as it is for pupils, writes David Waugh

For secondary school teachers the summer term means one thing: exams. Some classes will already have completed the exams, while others have yet to take their first. Through all of this, in every class, in every school, there is a common theme. You are a lot more worried about the exams than the students are.

You will sit at night wondering how each of them will do and what it will take - short of a bomb - to motivate them. When you see the class the next day and talk about their revision, it will turn out that while you were worrying, they were out playing football or their latest computer game.

As a newly qualified teacher this will be your first season of exam preparation classes and you will swear that you were never like that when you were taking your exams. You will convince yourself that when you sat your exams, you were motivated, keen and eager. Believe me, you weren't.

It's a rite of passage that exists between teacher and student: you telling them that you worked every hour of the day and them telling you that surely 30 minutes a week is enough. They will convince you that they cannot start proper revision as they still have some DT coursework to finish off, or an English essay to redo. This will not convince you and you will still badger them into working.

Waiting for your first set of exam results as a teacher is a nervous time. You will worry about what will happen if they are no good. Will this reflect on your skills as a teacher? Will you be taken off your other exam classes? Will the parents revolt against you? Rest assured, this will not happen.

At the end of the day, the pupils will get the results they deserve, based on their effort. There is a body of research that shows there is little difference between the results of a fantastic teacher and those of a satisfactory teacher. This may seem surprising, but if you look more closely at the research, it shows that excellent teachers and satisfactory teachers both have their positive and negative effects on pupils when preparing them for exams.

"Excellent" teachers will ensure that the entire curriculum has been covered three times over. They will have set homework on everything and led the students through the entire course, step by step. However, this tends to develop dependent learners. Pupils will be reliant on their teacher and less able to think for themselves. "Weaker" teachers will have encouraged their students to think independently - the most important exam technique a student can learn.

This is, of course, not always the case: the best teachers will strike a balance between firm guidance and independent learning, and these teachers make a difference. If you find yourself worrying about your classes, be reassured that this shows you are a good teacher. You have covered everything and your pupils are well prepared. There is nothing more you can do. After all, it's up to the pupils to do their own preparation - they're the ones taking the exams.

At this late stage there is nothing you can do to help them. The main thing is to be supportive. Make yourself available for one-to-one support during the day so that students can talk to you about their problems.

Every lesson that these students go into will be an exam class, and each teacher will be telling them how important this is, how vital the results are, and how much work they need to do. Try to make your lesson different. Change the way you motivate them; go as far as telling them the exams don't matter, and they should revise for the sheer fun of it - the light relief will probably do them the world of good.

After the exams you will wonder what all the fuss was about. Your students will get their results and some will be delighted, others disappointed. Your role is to just be supportive whatever the outcome. The old cliche is true: it doesn't matter what mark they get as long as they did their best and that you helped them along the way.

Learning to love exams

* Take comfort in the fact that you are worried about your students'

results. It shows you are a good teacher.

* Try to provide light relief from the pressures of exams; suggest to them to revise for the sheer fun of it.

* Be supportive and listen.

* Strike a balance between directed revision work and personal revision.

* Relax and realise that at this late stage there is nothing much left you can do. It's up to the students themselves.

* Talk to colleagues and ask how they think their classes are getting on.

* Make sure you know the procedures for getting the results when they are published.

* Focus on the things your students are good at, rather than the topics they find difficult.

* Start preparing for the new set of exam classes that will come to you in September while the current session is still in your mind. Next year you will not remember what could have been improved upon.

* Remember, the results are there for the students, not for you. It is their time, not yours - celebrate their success.

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