Make your classroom a place of safety

7th September 2007 at 01:00
It is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The hedgerows are full of delicious ripe blackberries and the rowan, that tree of magic, has turned into a fire of deep orange berries. Yes, it is time to go back to school and start another year.

I don't know about you but in my early days of teaching I always slept badly the night before we started back. My mind would be racing with all the things I needed to do and yes, I was nervous.

But do we really need the stress? I would say we need some. Stress in moderation is good for us all and keeps us alive.

But we must be mindful that the pupils are coming back to school with their own anxieties, many created by events over which we have no control.

We tend to think of children as being uncomplicated beings, untroubled by the goings-on of the external world.

We are so wrong. I still remember the registration lesson on the Snowdrop campaign. That was an appeal for people to wear snowdrops and to light a candle in the window in support of a gun ban following the Dunblane massacre.

But what I wasn't expecting was the little girl who came up to me at the end of the lesson in tears. Between huge shuddering gasps she explained that she was frightened of coming to school. She said she had been having nightmares ever since she had seen the television coverage of the incident.

Later, I was to encounter a teenager who had become afraid to walk less than 100 metres on her own along a quiet country lane. It was the summer when the media was full of Holly and Jessica, the schoolgirls murdered by Ian Huntley.

This summer has been no better. Nearly every newscast has focused on the so called gang culture. Then there is Rhys Jones, aged only 11, shot as he made his way home from playing football with his friends.

All great teachers care passionately about their pupils. We want them to succeed, to do well but, above all, to be happy and to grow up as honest, trustworthy members of society, able to support and raise happy families themselves.

Some misguided souls believe that schools are there only to deliver an academic education, but that is not the case.

So, when you return to school this week, please deliver that education to the highest standard of excellence but never lose sight of the fact that this is not the only gift you are capable of.

Remember to check the faces of pupils, to see it they are stressed or pale. Find time in the class to speak to them individually and quietly. Without probing or pushing, just check they are ok and, if your instincts tell you otherwise, advise the relevant head of year.

Make your classroom a place where the pupils are safe. Make it a place where you enjoy being, performing in front of the best class in the world.

Doing this will help to lower your stress levels and your results will also improve.

Helen Yewlett is a former ICT teacher from Cardiff

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