The Staff Room: An insight into education in the district written by Catherine Jackson

Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436
Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436

Spring is most certainly on the way.

Shoots are pushing their way through the chilled earth and the birds are once again making themselves heard in the early mornings.

It almost seems too soon to celebrate the lighter mornings and evenings.

We could certainly still be hit with a patch of the winter weather which has largely eluded us in this part of the world, but there is hope for optimism.

It always seems such a shame then, that when for many of us our spirits rise, for our exam students the stress really begins to kick in.

Throughout my years of teaching I have seen far more incidents of panic attacks, and children finding it more and more difficult to cope with what education has to throw at them. I’m not just talking about the children who find academic studies more difficult than some either.

Even the brightest students struggle – maybe more with their own and others’ expectations – but the struggle is still the same.

Similarly I’m not referring to one particular social background either. Both with and without money and parental support, children suffer.

It’s certainly right that these anxieties amongst pupils are addressed.

The Duchess of Cambridge did just that the other week when she spoke of the need to support young people who suffer mental health problems. But increasingly teachers are struggling too.

I know the nation sees us as a bunch of complainers and whingers, but I’ve seen the very real effects the pressures of teaching can have on colleagues.

This last half of term has been particularly difficult for many with protracted and prolonged illnesses and I am sure that is partly due to the stresses of the job.

I suppose we are seen as strong and bossy, because we have to give the impression of being strong and bossy to our students. If we didn’t, we would be ineffective in the classroom.

But I don’t think the nation sees us as we really are. Two of my colleagues instantly spring to mind.

The impression they have given to children, to parents and to staff over the years, to those who don’t really know them very well is probably one of ‘I don’t care what people think’ and ‘I’m always right’.

They are neither soft nor ‘wet’ and they are not people you would take on in a physical altercation.

What onlookers don’t always see though is the questioning and self-doubt which goes on in private and lies underneath, but still, very close to the surface.

As a profession we constantly question ourselves and ask if we have done enough.

Is what we are doing good enough for the young people whose future we can so dramatically impact?

I always remember my old maths teacher from primary school. She utterly terrified me, and I am sure that is where my fear of numbers arose, despite having a maths teacher father. At the age of five or six, I needed something very different from what she provided.

Similarly though, I remember a wonderful maths teacher I had several years later, who in the short time I had as a teacher, encouraged me and made me believe I really could do it and that I wasn’t quite as stupid as I believed myself to be. He is the sort of teacher I would like to be.

As teachers we all carry these memories around with us. We know what sort of teachers we want to be and what sort of teachers we do not want to be.

I know that I do not want to pass on to my pupils any ‘bad days’ I might have. I fear I do sometimes, but I do not want to be like my former maths teacher.

As teachers we can all berate ourselves without any help from anyone else. And we do. We all have the same insecurities as any of our pupils. Why? Because we care.

Certainly no one in their right minds would do the job, if they didn’t care. If that’s how they approached the job, they would be robots – and unhappy robots too – if that’s really possible.

So as spring begins to kick in and as the exam season begins to loom closer, we will support and help our students through the stresses they will inevitably face.

We will try to guide them through the fears and tensions that arise. Just spare a thought for us too - if you can!