Remember that pupils are people, too

27th June 2003 at 01:00
TIME is theoretically freed during the summer study leave for national exams but the same old pattern always follows - relief that the teaching of the courses is over, feverish attempts to conquer the paperwork, producing a departmental development plan, meetings with colleagues, organising pre-exam study days for my students, anxiety about whether the exams will be OK, preparing for the new timetable, worrying about inclusion, per capita, job sizing . . . words fail me.

Sometimes you wish that you could just hit the equivalent of the delete button on the computer and wipe from memory the list of endless tasks. It's an overwhelming time of year - exhaustion seems to overtake us.

You think as an experienced teacher that you have done it all but then things happen which make your jaw drop. Good things. All teachers need an oasis in the manic desert of modern teaching. My oasis in 2003 has been my senior pupils. It's always lovely to have affable companionship with older students but sometimes these relationships can go one step further when we actually start learning from them. This two-way process provides us with the most joyful moments in teaching.

I don't quite know why (although I do know that I have been lucky) but all three of my senior classes this year have contained special individuals who have been prepared to take a risk in terms of sharing their ideas. This kind of exchange underpins the teacher-pupil relationship operating at its best.

Here's one example from my compendium. Early in the year, I discovered that my philosophy class contained a talented artist (Sarah Wright is her name and she will be famous, so remember that you heard it here first!) who brought an artistic dimension to our philosophical discussions. The way she related Plato's theory of forms to the unexpectedly recurring patterns in the natural world - loads more complex than I'm making it sound - opened up a different slant on an ancient philosopher. It's so satisfying when our pupils ignite fresh ideas in us.

What alchemical blend allows students to bring all their learning experiences, talents and personalities to the classroom and creates the perfect conditions which allow everyone in the class, including the teacher, to give and receive a satisfying learning experience?

Motivation is a key factor and it's the teacher's job never to let up on leading, persuading, supporting and encouraging everyone to learn. If your pupils are going to bring all their skills and ideas with them so that there are no barriers to learning for you or them, then it is up to you to get to know your pupils really well.

It may be easier to overlook this personal angle and think that the only thing that matters is getting them through the exam, a factor which primary school teachers, by the very nature of their job, have been aware of for years. We have to dismount from our high horses.

All of this struck me during our recent Standard 6 end-of-school graduation meal. Having a chat and a laugh with my pupils in a social context after a long year is such a warming experience because, by that point, all that matters is not their role as my pupils but how we relate to one another as people.

Teachers can talk all they like about innovative and high quality teaching methods but emotional intelligence is what matters here. There's got to be something more substantial between us than a name on a registers - otherwise, none of us gives of our best. Quite wonderfully, some of our pupils were driven off from their end-of-year prom in a stretch limo. Such style. I loved it. Just as I loved teaching them.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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