Welcome to the House of Horrors

12th January 1996 at 00:00
There are some mishaps even Casualty cannot prepare you for. Trevor Patterson on tackling ill-health and accidents

It is natural that most newly qualified teachers set out in their first term with lots of enthusiasm. They are keen to prove to children, colleagues, parents and, most of all, themselves that they have what it takes to cope with the stresses and strains of class teaching. However, it is often the case that the first year in teaching can appear to be the most difficult. After a few weeks the "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" NQT can find themselves decidedly glassy-eyed and suffering from severe tail fatigue!

On discovering that the exhausting first teaching practice they endured at college now has to be repeated week in and week out, class teachers may also find themselves in a constant battle to fight off illness and infections. It is often the case that the NQT facing this germ warfare for the first time will succumb to one of the many viruses that seem to sweep through schools.

Ailments such as colds, flu, and stomach bugs are all common to the school environment and when supplemented by the occasional outbreak of tonsillitis, headlice or even threadworm the teacher might well be advised only to enter a classroom when dressed in a space suit.

Due to cash restraints, many schools have little or no cover for absent teachers. When a teacher is off school with illness it is not unusual for a class to be split and shared out among other already overfull classes. This disruption can only add to the pressure many NQTs feel and it is frequently the case that many teachers force themselves to go to school when in many other careers they would probably have just phoned in sick without a moment's hesitation.

People outside teaching are only too quick to point out that there is always a school holiday round the corner. In my experience this is usually just the time when some teachers finally do give way, run up the white flag and surrender to the sick bed.

Of course, it is not only the poor old teacher that suffers. There is always the constant prospect of a child becoming ill and it is the teacher that usually has to deal with the consequences. It frequently happens that a child will approach a teacher and complain of not feeling very well. Being a newly qualified teacher and not a newly qualified doctor this can put you in a difficult no-win situation.

I have, for example, phoned up a mother to collect the child only for her to complain I had got her out of work only to find that shooting pains in the stomach was nothing more than indigestion caused by eating too many crisps at lunchtime. Alternatively I have decided that a child looked healthy enough only to have a parent complain because I never informed them their child did not feel well. On the whole it is better to err on the side of caution and seek advice from a senior member of staff rather than make an inexperienced decision yourself.

There is always the added problem of those children who do become ill at school and then don't tell anyone until it is too late. The scenario of a child suddenly being sick in the classroom is one that all teachers have to face at some time. The golden rule is to always try to remain calm and try not to panic, even if your first reaction might be to do the same with the contents of your stomach as the child has done with theirs. Children find such incidents fascinating and you can guarantee a crowd of onlookers will suddenly appear to admire the view pointing out the various bits of food they can recognise. Again, it is best to seek help from another member of staff rather than trying to deal with everything yourself.

Queasy stomachs are not the only problem. Schools try to be as safe as possible but accidents inevitably do happen. Teachers can be confronted with anything from a slight graze to a severe fracture. The most innocuous of situations can be suddenly transformed into a real emergency.

No school can claim to be totally safe and it only needs a child to fall and bump their head on the playground and you can find yourself in a scene resembling something from the Hammer House of Horror.

It is usual for schools to have an accident policy and it is essential that you are familiar with the standard procedure before such incidents take place. There should be an appointed qualified first-aider and it is important they are contacted first rather than you try to patch up a child armed only with the knowledge gained from last week's episode of Casualty. Schools also should have an accident book where incidents are recorded and you should be made aware of where it is and how it is completed.

As a newly qualified teacher, you should not really have to try to deal with a situation that you are not trained or qualified for. If you find yourself in a situation from a nose bleed to an asthma attack, you should be able to immediately call on those more able to deal with it.

Life as a class teacher is not really one long series of calamities, but they will inevitably happen on occasions. The NQT needs to be aware they exist and how best to be prepared for it.

Trevor Patterson is a teacher at Churwell Primary School, Leeds

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