Talking shop;Problems

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you.

Q I have just started my second year of teaching and have developed good links with the parents of my pupils. I am very happy in my job and feel I have settled in as part of the school community.

At the end of last term one of the parents, who I know is separated, asked if he could take me out. I refused, but since then I haven't been able to stop thinking about him. He is attractive and from what I have seen is a good father to his son. I am nervous about seeing him again at school and am half hoping he will ask me out again. Should I go?

A Oh dear! Why am I getting thoughts of lemmings and cliffs? Be careful. No one can prevent adults from forming romantic relationships if they are truly attracted to each other but before this develops further take care to examine what might be the man's motivation - and your own.

Let me play Devil's advocate for a moment. You must be exuding confidence and vitality, you will have earned the respect of theparents for your work last year and will have an aura of authority. All in all this adds up to a pretty tempting morsel. Along comes a lonely chap, tied to childcare, with little opportunity to meet other women and hungry for companionship. You must be his dream come true - independent, successful and good with children.

From your point of view this attractive man, who, by the way, has become more attractive since he declared his intentions, has flattered you and made you feel desirable. Don't rush into anything. Think of some of the consequences. What would be the effect of the gossip that would undoubtedly spread? Some of the parents would probably know his first wife and could take sides. What would be the aftermath if the affair should end? What would be the effect on the little boy?

Consider everything, find out more about him, wait and see if it is a crush that subsides and whatever you decide, proceed with caution.

Q We have a long- standing colleague who is unmarried, has no children of her own and dotes on her nieces and nephews. There has never been any criticism of her teaching ability and she is well-respected in the school. Recently, however, she has developed a tendency to "home in" on individual children, talking about them a lot, being over attentive to them in the playground, and overprotective and defensive of them.

The situation has become so noticeable that parent helpers have joked about it. Should we tell her of ourconcerns?

A Yes, but nicely. There may be many reasons for the behaviour you have noticed. Her extended family may be growing up and away from her as they do. She may be coming to terms with the fact that they are showing less affection than they did. She may be lonely and have no one to talk things through with. It might be that her social life is a bit barren and all energies have been channelled into school.

A gentle word in her ear accompanied by invitations to share in events and activities outside school, might be just what she needs to get things back in proportion.

Q Most of the children in my Reception class are beginning to settle down quite well this term, apart from one little girl who has developed the habit of biting other children. This has caused a lot of problems; parents complain about her behaviour and the class has become quite disturbed when she has bitten someone, to say nothing of how upset her victims feel. What can we do to stop this escalating?

A There is usually a set of complex reasons why a child bites but basically the biter is feeling frustrated and has no other way of communicating his or her feelings.

Speak to the child's parents so they can support any modification programme you design and try to find out what disturbs her so that you can give reassurance.

Get other adults in the class to help you identify what the triggers are for her biting. It may occur, for instance, after she has been joined in play by another child or if she cannot get a turn at something herself. You will see a pattern and be able to intervene.

On the occasions when she does manage to sink her teeth into someone you can use a "verbal slap" - a sharp, short reprimand like "no". Give a lot of loving attention to the victim and, as soon as the offender does something good, give her the same level of praise.

Explain to the parents of the victims that you have a strategy and ask for their understanding while you implement it.

Situations like this one can bedifficult to manage but can be resolved if children receiveconsistent messages.

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