Teachers need support for additional challenges of going back to school this year - Jonathan Wood

Will going back to school ever be the same again? And is that a challenge or an opportunity? Two questions that will not be appearing on any examination paper – but which will be answered soon enough.

Place2Be is a charity providing children's mental health support in Scotland. Picture Place2Be

Two short years ago, teachers, parents and children had clear expectations around schooling. Clear start dates and holidays, regular attendance the norm, face-to-face teaching and ordinary social interaction when you got there.

However, with the start of the pandemic, early and subsequent lockdowns, changing government guidance, developments in scientific thinking – against a daily roll-call of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths – that certainty was replaced with nothing but contingencies.

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School communities were beset with anxieties. Teaching and school staff were carrying a massive responsibility – having to get it right for every child not only in terms of their education but also their fundamental physical health and their mental health and wellbeing. Every class bubble, every mask worn, every distance kept, every period of social isolation kept to represented a teacher’s extra effort and anxiety about doing the right thing.

Even as we start to adjust to living alongside COVID-19, what isn’t over are the residual anxieties that teachers have to manage – still signified by the masks, the distances and the ongoing roll call. Suicidal ideation amongst teenagers has increased dramatically in many schools.

Younger children, just beginning their school careers and thinking they might prefer home to school, have had long spells to compound their fears. Children who needed school because home wasn’t so great might arrive back with a sack load of worries. The question is who deals with all this?

Of course, parents do, but on what can be considered part of the front line in our children’s lives, it’s the teaching staff. Of course, school is not everything and parents need support too. But we need to be clear what teachers are professional in – teaching – and ensure that they have professional support for these additional challenges that there professional training hasn’t prepared them for. Five top tips then for going back to school for teachers.

Seek out support – amongst your peers or your manager – even before you feel you need it. Try to create and nurture supportive reflective spaces. What you are feeling needs to be talked about. Take time out – in nature, with friends, family or just with your thoughts. Try to let some of your thoughts dissipate naturally wherever you can. Support your own mental health. Be kind to yourself. Don’t work - or worry - beyond school hours more than you have to. Go back to what it was that made you want to work in education. Feed that early enthusiasm. Identify the key elements and nurture them. Root out the bad stuff and the dead ends. Be sure that you have attended to your own grief or anxiety before you take on other peoples’. Talking to a professional can help here.

As one teacher said recently “Teaching was always about the whole child. But for this entire period, I have found it very difficult to focus on the positives in that approach. This has just been about keeping everyone safe.”

Place2Be is a charity providing children's mental health support in Scotland, working with schools across Glasgow, Edinburgh, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, Renfrewshire, Angus, Perth & Kinross, Dundee, North and South Ayrshire and the Highlands. Place2Be is grateful for its generous supporters, including the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Jonathan Wood, Area Manager for Scotland East, Place2Be.

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