Absolutely priceless

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Meet your pupils' last teacher if you want an insight into their behaviour, says Cathy Goodey

My classroom shelves are groaning with them and I can't squeeze another into the cupboard in the corridor. I mean the dozens of files, folders and other publications designed to make teachers' lives easier by outlining what, when and how to teach the curriculum.

We have policies and plans, structures and strategies. There is so much advice in print that no teacher, surely, needs more. Never have NQTs been better prepared to meet the joys and challenges of teaching. But the other resource before meeting a new class is: their last teacher.

With the right incentive, which might mean a large cup of Starbuck's finest, most teachers are happy to talk at length about their class. An off-the-record chat means that you can find out how to handle him when Johnny throws a sulk; that Sahira will respond best if given tiny targets, and that too much praise for Javid means that you won't get a scrap of work from him for the rest of the lesson. The information is cheaper than something photocopiable, but just as valuable.

The best pieces of advice have been given to me by other teachers. As a group, teachers are the most creative, resourceful and caring people I have met. Finding time to get to know them, to share knowledge and experiences, or to bounce ideas around with, is time well spent. Other teachers can be a support when things get rough; an inspiration when the creative spirit gets low; or provide a well-needed hug. They can be a sounding board for new ideas; a joy, a friend.

Some of the friendliest faces in a school are parents and helpers who give their time and talent freely. Such generosity is infectious. Everyone benefits from these selfless givers.

Time spent building relationships is rarely wasted, least of all with those with whom you intend to spend several hours a day, five days a week for most weeks of the year: the pupils. It seems strange, then, that the received wisdom has been not to show signs of friendliness to pupils for a while.

There is a saying: people like people who like them. We usually do our best for those we like. Finding something to like in each child, as well as presenting the children with someone they can like, is my priority each September. My most successful days are those that are marked by aching cheeks from smiling so much! There is another consequence: my smallest frown of disappointment has, in contrast, a greater impact.

Of course, there is a downside to all this camaraderie, which leads me to one other piece of advice that I have never found in any file. Before meeting the class, stock up with bottles of tea tree and eucalyptus oils, prodigious amounts of conditioner and a good nit comb. And use them.

Frequently. It works for me.

Cathy Goodey teaches Year 5 at Princes Plain primary school in the London borough of Bromley

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