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Personal Reflection

NAPCE membership includes a myriad of members, including primary and secondary teachers, and some who have straddled both phases. I am one of the latter, and have found NAPCE good for the soul when attending conferences, and reading key literature in the past twenty years has enhanced my understanding of my role. I have recently retired but maintain my role as treasurer of NAPCE. It is the least I can do!

It is my turn to write something for the website, and, as a simple soul, I have chosen to include some personal reflections of my teaching career. I have limited my piece to the statements made by Sage that ‘Good social and emotional skills help pupils to, for example, make friendships, work in teams, solve problems, deal with conflict, manage strong feelings, to be calmer and optimistic, recover from setbacks, compete fairly, and respect others’ rights and value diversity.’

The skills are in five groupings:

  • self-awareness
  • managing feelings
  • empathy
  • motivation
  • social skills

How self aware was I when I started? Not very. One thing I learned very quickly was that the smallest kindness or awareness of individuality reaped huge dividends now that did resonate with me! Don’t do it for me, let me have a go myself, that was a good one! Please don’t talk too much, I need to process what you are saying…. and better still, let me learn by teaching others. I knew absolutely nothing until I tried to teach it to others, if it works for me, why not for the students. Sometimes I like to work on my own and sometimes I like to work with others, if would be nice if you gave me a choice sometimes.

Managing my feelings: Well, not in the early days, I was not confident enough, I did not have enough strategies up my sleeve, but then that comes with experience. I was lucky enough to be able to ‘occasionally’ laugh at myself and that proved invaluable. What pressed my button was something that I grew to recognise, but how can you expect an adolescent to have that amount of self awareness all the time. Knowing what makes individuals tick, allows planning to avoid such triggers. Planned programmes addressing understanding feelings, the knowledge that it is OK to feel how you do and events do not illicit the same responses in everyone is reassuring to a young person. Just looking at the body the language, a quick word, a mini check in, can save a great deal of angst. Being even tempered went down well with the students, and a smile went down quite well too.

Empathy: What has served me very well throughout my career has been sport! Large characters in class often support sport even if they do not participate themselves. Establishing a relationship with all students and especially the leaders is a must. How can you start a Monday morning without touching base about the football results? I have kept my own allegiance private when the students have been extremely partisan. Knowing that a teenage girl does not want to talk about her career options when her dog has just died, giving students space so that they are available for learning has been effective.

Motivation: What motivates me is when my individual talents are appreciated and I am given a certain amount of autonomy to get on with the job. There is no getting away from it, however, if the relationship between the teacher and student is strong then the student does not want to disappoint the teacher. I have always told my pupils that the first time you meet a teacher or hand in your first piece of work, go the extra mile, impress in the first instance, you can rest on that for some time!! When someone has been passionate about their subject and made lessons as active as possible, I have really appreciated it. I also like to know why I am doing something, I am not too hot at doing something for the sake of it. I do like to be challenged too, not too much but just enough for me to know I’ve done a good job. Self esteem comes from within, the behaviours of others enable a climate or situation that can seek to promote self esteem, but if we do not actually feel it, it is meaningless.

Social skills: Don’t ask me to do as you say and ignore what you do. Listening is the social skill that I will choose to emphasise. Hours of time can be saved if listening is truly active. Learning about the Chinese hieroglyphic that states that you listen with your eyes, ears, heart and the whole of you, was important for me to learn. I don’t think laughter is often described as a social skill, but this has probably been the most useful attribute to have. To laugh at self and with others has made this particular career a joy.

Meeting so many other professionals who care deeply about the personal and social development of young people but who have never lost sight of the need to provide the same level of care for the teachers has sustained and developed my enthusiasm over my varied career. Thank you NAPCE.

Ethel Southern

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