Recently, one of our master teachers alerted me about an attempted suicide in an international school in Klang Valley recently. The school’s immediate reaction was to move the students to another campus and carry on as if nothing happened. Nobody addressed the issue. Nobody counselled or consoled the students.
For some parents, this might be a shocker but not to a parent I spoke to during our Strategy Call (a conversation we have before parents proceed with our Discovery Session). As I was sharing with Ms Suzanna on how disturbed I was when one of our students opened up about how his teachers often humiliated him by calling him names (he was from an international school in Johor), she smiled and casually responded, “That is pretty normal. Happens in my daughters’ school too. I can’t blame the teachers. They are overworked to the bones. Always seem to be on a short fuse and complaining about management.”
Though I don’t think it is acceptable for teachers to humiliate students by calling them derogatory names, there is a whole lot of truth in Ms Suzana’s statement. Teachers are overworked to the bones in most international schools. The more overworked they are, the less kind they become.
We must remember a teacher’s job is not only to deliver the syllabus. A teachers’ main responsibility for me is to provide pastoral care. After all, your children will spend more time in a day with their teachers than they do with you.
Teachers are the first line of defense when it comes to identifying something is amiss with a child. It is not that difficult to do. You could easily spot the difference even in a virtual classroom like ours.
Here is how the mind voice of a teacher sounds in a class, “The chatterbox is rather quiet today, the quiet student looks more distracted than usual. How come none of this school work is done by my best student?”
A good teacher (as long as they are not packed to the brim with classes and responsibilities that keep them burning the midnight oil every day) will be able to scan the class and take note of everyone’s mood. A great teacher will drop a message and check on students after the class.
Now, in order for a teacher to do this, they should first receive care from management. Are they well paid so that they do not have to compensate by looking for tuition outside? Are they given enough breaks in order for them to talk to students between classes? Are they assigned responsibilities and activities that they are passionate about? Do they feel heard? Are their ideas taken into consideration and implemented?
From the get-go, I knew the above were few things we needed to get right at our school. We know teachers need to be well paid, they must be treated with respect (and not like workhorses) and avenues created for them to bring their best ideas to work. I encouraged teachers to champion projects they feel most connected to and made sure I did not stand in the way, hindering it from becoming a success. I held them responsible, gave them the resources they needed and provided feedback. But for the most part, I stood back and let them shine.
This has worked like a charm as the teachers then repeat the treatment to the children. They provide support (but never spoon-feeding), feedback (in the most constructive way possible) and care (by being present and available for the children).
No matter how many times it happens, it never fails to amaze me how by the first week of school, students have become so comfortable with their teachers that they share their most intimate stories. From the nasty divorce their parents are going through to the agonizing body-shaming they experienced in their previous schools. Some stories that parents have admitted was impossible for even them to get out of their children.
In our school, I believe in the partnership approach when it comes to drawing the Pasxcel Circle of Safety. Parents and teachers work hand in hand to pass intel, provide feedback and enforce discipline to ensure that the child develops trust and feels safe to be themselves.
For students to feel safe and cared for, the teachers will have to feel safe and cared for first.
Pastoral care begins with teachers.
Let’s take care of our teachers so they can take care of our children.
Written by Principal & Founder of Pasxcel, Teacher Yuven