Emotional wellbeing. Such a simple concept. Students need to feel safe, included and confident to learn in the classroom. Seems pretty simple right? But what happens when you try your hardest to create these parameters but it still doesn’t work? What if you have tried every trick in the book but it’s just not working? What if you were never taught any tricks in the first place?
As a teacher, this is the missing link in teaching. You can be a great teacher, create engaging lessons and resources, spend hours planning how best to achieve outcomes for students. But if you’re not able to build rapport, foster relationships and recognise any underlying emotional or intellectual difficulties students are facing then it is all for nothing.
Emotional wellbeing needs to come first! Bottom line. There are so many facets to this whether it be students with intellectual challenges or those with behavioural issues. How exactly do you deal with these challenging behaviours while still achieving outcomes for your students?
Students bouncing off the walls because their parents forgot to give them their medication that morning or aren’t on medication at all. Trauma associated with horrible home lives. I shudder to even think about what happens when they go home daily. What their small and underdeveloped brains are forced to see and hear will continue to shock me. And sadden me. Most of us are lucky enough to return home to a safe and inviting place where everything is where you left it and your privacy and space is respected. This is not the case for many students. It breaks my heart to hear some stories of what goes on at home. Ideally, I want to achieve academic outcomes for students but realistically I know that giving them a person to confide in is most important.
Take one school I was recently teaching at. A girl screaming, punching, kicking the principal repeatedly, tears streaming down her face lasting for almost an hour. You might think this was a response to not wanting to do work or perhaps someone had upset her on the playground but that wasn’t the case. School had finished for the day. The principal’s voice trembled as she repeatedly asked the child to stop hurting her. Her voice quivered not because she was getting hurt but because she knew the reality as well as I did. This student was terrified to go home. She was scared about what she was going home to that day. It wasn’t about her wanting to throw a tantrum and cause a scene. It was her defence mechanism because she knew the longer she was at school, the less time she would have to spend at home. They never taught me that at university.
So many needs that were never addressed during my studies and left me completely unprepared for the realities of the classroom. I used to work in Sydney but have moved to a regional town where the cases of ADHD are so high that a handful of students in each class are medicated. I was used to a handful in the entire school in my last job. University doesn’t teach you that some days these students will learn nothing and it’s just about providing a safe place for them where they are happy and content in interacting with peers. University never taught me that you can prepare a brilliant lesson, complete with laminated resources, group work and rich discussion for it all to go pear shaped and not the way you imagined because you spend the entire time addressing the emotional needs of students.
University never taught me that the enthusiasm I brought into teaching would be stripped back to the point I’m just happy surviving each day. It never taught me how mentally draining it is to keep up with all these kids. I was never taught the best way to balance student’s emotional needs while being pushed by the Department to achieve unrealistic outcomes for these students. University never taught me these things.
I’ve been a teacher for 8 years and there are still some days I feel completely incompetent. There are still those students I have no answers for. There are still those times I feel I achieved nothing in the day. Until universities start addressing these very real and increasingly prominent issues, we are going to continue to lose teachers within the first five years of the profession. Fact.
To read more honest, raw, and informative articles by this author, visit her blog at www.themusingblog.com