Marking, e-safety and behaviour. These three are a mere snippet of the policies necessary to allow a school to run consistently and smoothly. Perhaps the most important policy, though, is one of honesty. Throughout my NQT year, I’ve been struck by the benefits of just simply telling the truth to enable myself, other staff members, pupils and others in the community to co-exist and co-operate. I thought I’d share a particular anecdote in which honesty was invaluable:
Out Of My Depth
Over the May half-term, particularly towards the end of the week, I was struggling to sleep. My girlfriend will vouch for the fact that this is a complete abnormality. (If OFSTED rated levels of sleep, I’d get an outstanding.) I couldn’t really place my finger on what was the cause of this sleeplessness until I returned on the Monday staff training day for our resuscitation training for swimming. (Our school has a swimming pool so the class teachers tend to their their pupils when the pool is opened.) I realised I had some deep-seated anxiety related to teaching my children swimming and decided that, rather than bottle up and make myself unwell, I’d go to speak to one of my headteachers straight away. She was incredibly understanding and although we attempted to put some support strategies in place I still did not feel comfortable or at ease and so my NQT mentor has very kindly agreed to teach my class swimming. Instantly, I was able to sleep better and I have felt much more positive about the remainder of this half term because I’ve eliminated this background worry. Clearly, being honest about my feelings towards swimming allowed me to rebalance my wellbeing in my favour. However, I think being honest can bring benefits to others, too.
I explained to my children that my NQT mentor would be taking swimming for this half term and one of the children asked why I wasn’t doing it. I could have just made up a reason such as the fact I was a new teacher so couldn’t, or that I didn’t have a proper qualification – but what’s the point in lying? I admitted that I felt under-confident with teaching because I didn’t have a very good experience when I was taught swimming. Also, I did not feel technically qualified, even though as I have QTS I can teach it. (Honestly, I think this is a crazy notion…but that’s beside the point.) One of the children laughed at the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to teach them swimming until another child pitched in and rephrased my thoughts. This was a great opportunity to see how one of my pupils could interpret and reiterate my anxieties towards swimming and really helped the child who initially found the situation amusing understand my feelings. It was an important experience for myself and I feel it was for the rest of the class too.
By admitting my anxieties towards teaching swimming, it also allowed a couple of pupils to approach me and share their own worries regarding swimming lessons. This meant I could take them around the swimming pool to allow them to (re)familiarise themselves with the location and I discussed my own reflections towards swimming and provided examples of how I improved my mindset towards swimming. Showing my vulnerability allowed these children to take the scary step towards admitting their troubles and after asking for feedback from them following their first session, they had positive responses.
There are plenty of other times when I’m honest. For example, I tell my pupils when I haven’t marked their work because I’ve been attending a social event. (Why not? It’s important to remind them that my work/life balance is just as important as theirs.) I also don’t feel I have a problem admitting when I don’t understand something to members of staff. There’s no point in just trudging through and hoping you’re doing the right thing and I’ve learned a lot by just owning up to being confused. I can also politely and professionally (I hope!) challenge staff members about certain ideas and then I come away from these discussions having learned a great deal more about my own practice.
In regards to the recent terrorist attacks, I also felt that honesty was the best policy. Therefore, I acknowledged some of the children’s anxieties towards some of the news stories they had read and watched. Of course, each teacher had to use their professional discretion to decide to what degree we would discuss the events, so Year 5/6 focused on discussing the positive ways in which people banded together after the events to help those in need. In this respect, we were not fabricating the truth but focusing on the honesty of the positive elements. This example really speaks to me about the importance of not just unloading your honest thoughts to the world but ensuring they are delivered appropriately and sensitively.
It’s a funny thing, honesty. There’s so much power in it but some are too scared to use it and some don’t quite know how to use it responsibly and respectfully. I don’t really know where I fall in this spectrum of truthfulness because my approach shifts so often. There are still times when I should just be more frank about my thoughts towards things I disagree with – even if it’s just rebuffed by a better argument. However, there are times when I worry that I say what I think too much – but surely I should voice the things I believe in? Perhaps a happy medium is the best way to go. Who knows? I hope I have a long time in my teaching career (and life in general) to work out what’s the best approach.