Steady nerves in the final straight

11th April 2008 at 01:00
If there ever was a month in which the nerve of the middle leader must stay steady, it is April. Not the cruellest month, alas, because of stirred desire (TS Eliot wasn't a teacher). No, it is the month that inspires cold panic.

Pre-exam nerves may affect at least some of our students but the numbers bear no resemblance to the percentage of teachers who wake at night and wonder if they have: taught the right syllabus; covered all the course; chosen the correct texts; predicted the right questions; done enough revision; peaked too soon; or, even, chosen the right profession.

Well, I made that last one up, but sometimes the responsibility of getting through the last few weeks can be agonising. A steady nerve may be the ultimate aim but, in the meantime, it is your job - if you are in charge of a subject - to give your staff confidence, and to insist that confidence is passed on to the pupils.

In my experience, young people have a sixth sense for teachers' nerves. Think of the supply teacher who is uncertain of the school rules, or newly qualified teachers taking the first tentative steps in their careers. But can you and your team hold your nerve when challenged with a question such as: "How come the other class have finished all their coursework and their exam revision?" Be ready with your script but, in the meantime, make sure your staff know exactly what their timetable is in the run-up to the exams. If in doubt, ask to see written plans for the next few weeks.

Perhaps most importantly of all, do not ever overestimate the time you have left. It is always less than you think.

Students tend to disappear before your eyes. It takes a genius to work out who will be attending which lesson by the time you get into the thick of French oral exams, drama moderations, college interviews, PE and art practicals, and so on. It is a bonus to have everyone in front of you.

Strangely enough, for the students, it is a time when many of them seem finally to become focused. The boys, in particular, suddenly seem to see the point and appreciate that the end is in sight. Rather than nerves taking over, many of them look forward to racing down that finishing straight and breaking that invisible tape. For them, it is the last dash to freedom and, hopefully, success.

For you, their trainer for so long, it is your job to cheer them on. Nerves may be justified, but hide them well from your runners.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head of Redbridge Community School in Southampton.

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