“Have I missed the signs?”
“Did I ask the right questions?”
“Was that child really telling me the truth when they said they were fine?"
“Did we cover enough in PSHE?”
Quick read: 7 things you can do with your summer break
Quick listen: Why we need more support for mental health in primary
Want to know more? How to support vulnerable students over the summer
There is growing pressure on teachers to spot children with poor mental health and know what to do to address it (that expectation is only going to increase with the government’s mental health training initiative).
It’s a huge mental task and the signs can be different for every child. Some are quiet and don’t want to talk. Some just change as they grow up. Some may not want to talk or deal with issues at that moment.
Or they may not want to talk to you. You could be the third person that has asked them and they are drained from explaining (this is why sharing of information is vital). You may remind them of the person who is causing some of the issues.
But it’s vital that they talk to someone. No wonder staff feel guilty when they don’t spot the signs or aren’t there to help.
The fact that it’s the summer holidays doesn’t mean that these issues stop (for many, in fact, they get worse). And for some teachers, there’s no respite from those nagging worries about vulnerable students.
How is that child going to cope over the holidays? Who is there for them? Who will they talk to? What if their coping mechanisms aren’t working?
Your brain can go into overdrive. Should you send the child an email or phone the parent just to check that they are OK? Or will that just make matters worse?
Then there’s the communication from outside agencies. If you’re a Sendco or a designated safety lead (DSL), you may be invited to external meetings that fall while you’re abroad on holiday.
Or on the one day that you were hoping to do something that’s crucial for your own wellbeing.
You know this meeting is important for the child, and it’s not as if they happen all the time. And what message would it send to the child if you don’t go? And so the guilt grows even bigger.
You attend the meeting, which can cause issues with your own family. It means arranging childcare and explaining to your partner that you’re going to be away for another day.
So how can we truly let go during the holidays? I have come up with some top tips over the years. I wish I could say that they have eradicated any feelings of guilt or made me switch off entirely, but they have helped (and I am still adding to the list).
Use your email effectively
Put your Out of Office on and make sure it includes useful phone numbers for local and national services (such as ChildLine). That means if a student gets in touch and you haven’t seen the email, you are giving them a suggestion of where else they can turn.
Plan in advance
Agree a rota for DSLs to be contactable over the summer, taking account of when people will be out of the country. Knowing that there is someone else you trust, who has been trained, can help alleviate the worry when you’re not available.
Brief support staff
Train support staff who answer the phone or school email over the break on all of your procedures, so they only contact you when they need to but don’t leave important things to the start of term.
Above all, remember you are only human and you can only do your best if you are rested.
Ceri Stokes is assistant head (DSL) at Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire. She tweets @CeriStokes