The first week of school is over for most of us. Whether relief or dread it’s gone now and we can reflect on how it might have been. For educators I know it’s a shock to the system to go back and has probably been a week of training, preparing, meeting new children and staff and generally getting back into the routine of school.
For parents or carers it has certainly been some of the same shock. Trying to get your children back into the early nights and early mornings, uniform checks, lunches made and general malaise of the first week of school.
For our children and young people of course it may also have contained mixed emotions. For vulnerable children this transition of coming back after summer can be tough. Their anxiety levels may be sky high wondering what the year may bring, if their friends are still their friends and whether they can cope with the increase in work or not.
I’ve been amazed this last week to hear stories, and to see first-hand from my children, some of the approaches we seem to take in education to this week. There seems to be the need to exert some authority and to ‘set the tone’. Teachers often come down hard on children in this first week in order to establish what they think will be a level of respect from the young people and a no-nonsense attitude. I understand why they feel the need to do this but it totally backfires on children who’ve experienced early trauma for a number of reasons.
- There is so much anxiety for some children and young people. They may have worked themselves up over the summer at what their new teacher might be like. We know that behaviour communicates a need and when our children are stressed or anxious they are not working from the logical part of their brain. They cannot necessarily manage their own level of stress and this expresses itself through their behaviour. So when faced with a teacher you already have a difficult relationship with you may end up calling them a name under your breath – which happened to a friend of my daughters. As a result, she was given an internal exclusion for a whole day on her second day of year 11.
- There are already so many barriers for learning for vulnerable children. When we add another that raises the expectations so hard it becomes overwhelming for them and totally unachievable. My son for example got a detention on his first day for being late, which was actually due to the fact that he couldn’t remember the start time and neither could I! Now the memory of his first day isn’t a happy one where he reconnected with his form tutor who he’s had for 4 years and not seen for 6 weeks, but one of “oh this is how the years’ going to be”.
- Feeling safe enough to learn is always a difficulty for vulnerable children. Pointing out their behaviour when you have no idea why is unfair. One friend of mines son was humiliated in-front of his class by his teacher and marked as the class clown. We have to look beyond behaviours and really understand why children may react as they do.
In terms of setting the tone for the year – I so wish teachers especially would see their job as an ideal position to set the year and the tone as a safe and calm one for vulnerable children. Not a place where they are shamed, humiliated and disadvantaged because of their needs. Wouldn’t it be great (I’m sure there are many schools out there that do this) to have schools welcome children and young people back from the summer with open arms, fun, anticipation of success and an understanding of just how difficult coming back to school is?
Every child does matter and every child is entitled to an education and a chance to change their futures.
If you work in an educational setting, then you have an incredible opportunity to do that for a child – please don’t waste it by focusing on their behaviour over and above their anxiety and the reasons behind their behaviour. They need us to help them to feel calm and safe so that they can learn.