My daughter has spent the past couple of weeks agonising over what to buy her teacher for Christmas. She is currently torn between a Disney snow globe and a cuddly bear wearing a Santa hat. I’m trying to persuade her that a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio might be a winning third option.
It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. The foundation teacher has become something of an idol in our house. From the correct way to draw a number 8 to how to zip up your coat, her word is law. Even the toddler has taken to chanting her name.
Evoking near-idolatry in your students is undoubtedly a useful skill. My daughter is desperate to read her book to us since her teacher told them that it’s more fun to read to a grown-up, and we’ve discovered that the mere suggestion of delivering a bad report at the classroom door is enough to curb a bedtime tantrum.
Sadly for us key stage 2 teachers, this type of blind devotion does wear off. It’s true, I got a Christmas card yesterday that said, “Thanks for being the best teacher in the world,” but I’m pretty sure my job-share partner, our teaching assistant and all the child’s previous teachers have received an identical accolade, so I’m going to take it with a pinch of salt.
I’d always thought that whether your pupils like you or not was irrelevant – now I’m not so sure. Teaching is all about relationships: getting the children on-board is half the job. Actively trying to be liked is the surest way to fail, but I do think that adding friendliness to the firm-but-fair approach pays off.
You can’t win them all and if they sometimes don’t like you, that’s OK, too. Occasionally, you overhear children in the playground sounding off about a teacher who has just told them off. My policy is to chalk this up to free speech, but it always reminds me of the time playground free speech got a bit too free.
It was nearing the end of a long term. Out in the playground, the teacher on duty was accosted by a mob of children bearing shocking news. “Callum is saying he wants to kick Mrs Headteacher up the arse,” they told him. The teacher summoned Callum – a normally well-behaved 11-year-old – to ask if he had been saying anything he shouldn’t.
“Yes, Sir. I said I wanted to kick Mrs Headteacher up the arse,” he replied politely. Taken aback at this burst of honesty, the teacher decided to shame him into remorse.
“Maybe I should take you down to Mrs Headteacher’s office and you can pass on that message in person?”
It was an unwise call. Callum meekly traipsed into the inner sanctum, where he willingly repeated his desire to deliver a posterior booting.
School leadership was going through a rather high-handed phase at the time so when the story hit the staffroom, we were a little less condemnatory of Callum than was proper. But rehabilitation is the key, and it gave us all a warm glow to see him receiving his “good work” sticker in the next headteacher assembly.
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands