We’re still early into the new term and we’re already detecting fatigue and a sense of mild panic amongst some of the teachers we meet. As I said in my last letter, we all need to work hard at keeping ourselves motivated and in turn we’ll motivate others. In challenging times, this is easier said than done, but we cannot afford to give up.
Classroom management is becoming more of a challenge as many of our learners are spending their ‘off day’ unsupervised and are getting up to all kinds of mischief. They are not keen to come back to school the next day either. A teacher recently said to me that every day feels like a bad Monday in terms of the children’s behaviour. Added to this is the problem that there are huge gaps in the children’s academic development that teachers are being expected to pick up and work with. This would take its toll on any teacher – you are not alone.
Rewarding children for their co-operation and good behaviour in the classroom is not my first choice as I feel acceptable behaviour should be intrinsic – children should all have a measure of self-discipline. However, nothing in our lives is normal anymore and we are at a stage where we need to use all the tools in our teacher’s toolbox in order to keep the children motivated and wanting to learn. If rewarding the children in your class works, then do it.
Rewards can take the form of a few extra minutes to play at break time, building a puzzle or playing a game that they enjoy, reading a book, writing a story or drawing. You could also have a ‘Teacher’s surprise Box’. Decorate the box so that it looks attractive and is appealing to any child. In the box you have a few meaningful activities that the child can do. These could include playing cards, word searches, times table activities and games, writing cards or even cards with interesting short stories or non-fiction paragraphs printed on them that the children can read and learn something new. These activities should not resemble extra work – they should be a real treat to do. Change the activities in the box every few weeks. The activities will vary vastly from grade to grade. Keep in mind that sometimes we need to reward the child’s effort and not only the end product. You will know which children in your class will benefit from their effort being recognised and acknowledged.
Teachers are also having difficulty getting schoolwork completed at home. Parents are either not interested or just don’t have the time as they’re working hard to make ends meet. Times are tough in the workplace too. Use your reward system, whatever it might be, to encourage and motivate the children to complete tasks at home. If you know that a particular child doesn’t have home support, try not to give him/her homework that will require adult assistance. Rather give him homework that he can do on his own and allow him to enjoy the feeling of success when it has been completed and returned to you. By doing this, you are enabling the child instead of setting him up for failure.
The academic gaps that we’re seeing are real and can’t be ignored. As experienced teachers, many of you are struggling with the fact that you have to press on in order to complete the curriculum knowing that many of the learners are not ready to move to the next concept or stage. They need more time and practice. This causes great anxiety in educators. You wouldn’t be the dedicated teacher that you are if you didn’t have these concerns. If you have done everything in your power to keep your learners learning during the pandemic, then you’re a great teacher. You can’t do more than your best for the children in your care.
Working with children in small groups might help those in need of extra assistance to catch up a little. Even ten minutes of attention in a small group with intensive focussing is better than nothing.
This is where you can use your reward system again to motivate and encourage the children to work hard while they’re at school. Be careful of allowing the more able children too much time doing meaningless things. There are more than enough meaningful activities available for them to be engaged in – just think out of the box!
Remember – we bring the enthusiasm to the classroom that motivates the children.
Bill Gates so wisely said this: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
If you are feeling down and need some motivating, draw inspiration from a colleague or a friend who might reawaken your enthusiasm. Most of all, let your feelings of guilt and inadequacy go. You are doing the best you can do, and your efforts are appreciated.
Have a good week. Kind regards
Jenny (on behalf of)
The Teachers’ Support Team, Principals Academy Trust