(This post was only published after checking with the ex-pupil mentioned within it that it was okay to do so….)
A lovely message from the past
I received an email from an ex-pupil (from my previous school) yesterday, completely out of the blue.
It was a lovely email. It made my day. She was writing (among other things) to say thank you for being her teacher because she “figured everyone could do with hearing this sort of thing every now and then, especially when they have a hard job or one that can be a little unrewarding/thankless at times- so I hope this makes you feel a tad more appreciated in case you didn’t already.”
This alone would be amazing. As I said to her, we all hope that we make a difference to people. That’s why we do it. But we don’t always hear back about it. And nor do we particularly expect to.
Reaching out, and noticing the small things
But I’m not writing this blog (just) to say how lovely it was to get this email. It’s because of what she thanked me for. And it chimes with what I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently.
In her email, among other things, she said “it really stuck in my head that you once noticed that I was overwhelmed and took me out of the class… to tell me that I needn’t be so worried and needn’t finish my homework for you so that I could rest. Most year eights would probably love a night off of homework, to be fair, but you noticed that I needed that, and I did.”
This really struck me. Firstly, because she’d remembered it. It obviously meant a lot to her, and it made a difference. And I’m really grateful that I was able to help. But secondly, the fact that it stuck out possibly means that it was unusual. And I worry that it shouldn’t have been an unusal occurrence.
We might not be pulling our hair out, but are our students?
Some pupils make me want to pull my hair out. Whatever I do, however much I nag/ support/ encourage them, they just don’t seem to think that school is that important. They don’t appear to work more than they absolutely have to. I realise there might be all sorts of reasons for this, but I have to admit that I find it quite difficult to empathise with this attitude. I have always been a worrier who tried to do her best at everything, yet I spend a great deal of time and energy trying to help students that aren’t doing as much as they could.
But there are some students who quietly get on with it, and I really feel that we need to make sure we notice them, too. It was interesting that I received that email yesterday, because I’d actually already been thinking about the past few weeks, when I have:
- told a range of Y11s at parents evening that in a couple of months, things are going to get very full-on (especially for the accelerated triple scientists) and they need to be aware that it’s coming. And they need to tell me if it starts to feel too much.
- chatted to a hard-working A level student, who is feeling worried about how to fit in this “revision” that everyone keeps talking about, when they have so much homework to do already. It’s not that they don’t want to revise; they just don’t know where to start!
- talked to a student about how difficult it is not to feel stressed when teachers are addressing “you must work harder” type comments to other people in the class, even if she knows it’s not actually aimed at her
- kept a student back after a lesson to tell them they don’t have to come top of the class in every test they do. And that they mustn’t feel a “failure” if they don’t achieve 100%! This student is well known for being “clever”; and they feel an incredible pressure to maintain their top position: peers always want to compare their marks to this particular student. Their visible and immediate relief when we had this conversation made me feel a bit sad. I wish I’d thought to say it sooner.
If I could talk to my 15-year-old self…
I possibly notice these things quite acutely because they remind me of myself. I was that student who felt pressure to stay at the top,and who worried about what people thought. Luckily, I had parents who repeatedly told me that I could only do what I could do… and that I shouldn’t feel any pressure to perform or achieve. But I still empathise with that feeling.
And this isn’t a post to congratulate myself or patronise others… or to wag a finger.
But it is a reminder to look out for the quiet, hard-working students, too. Because, in the rush of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook them. And they’re unlikely to shout for attention if they need it.