As both a teacher and a parent, I was more than interested to see the following Telegraph article tagged by Flying start magazine. With a husband working hard in Children’s Services, many teacher friends and members of family also being teachers, Micahel Gove has not always been a name we welcome readily since he took over as Education Secretary. When I saw his name I actually thought, ‘Oh, now what?!’
I stand corrected. Gove has condemned current feelings towards teachers’ physical contact with pupils and for once I think he is totally right.
In the article, Gove says that it is ‘ “positively right” for teachers to comfort distressed pupils by putting an arm around them, or demonstrate sports skills through physical contact with a child’ and I couldn’t agree more!
As a teacher, think of the four year old boy sitting at the front of assembly watching a show and displaying signs of terror as one of the larger-than-life characters swoops before him, all part of the show of course. Who wouldn’t want to scoop him up and give him a cuddle, comfort him and help him to understand that he is safe and cared for in school? As teachers, aren’t we supposed to be looking after the welfare of these children we are entrusted with each day?
As a parent, I want my children to be comforted by their teachers. I want to know that if my daughter scrapes her knee, someone will be confident enough to pick her up and put her on their own knee until she stops crying. I want to know that my son is given appropriate cuddles and kisses at nursery so that he can learn and develop normally. I don’t want my children to grow up in a society that has a ‘culture of fear among both adults and children, reinforcing the message that any adult who touches a child is somehow guilty of inappropriate contact,” ‘
In reality, as a teacher, I am wary of physical contact with my pupils. I teach year four and by that age they rarely need comforting that much, but there is still an air of ‘what if’ when they do. I never keep my door closed when I’m in my room with only one pupil but I suppose that’s standard practise for teachers. BUT I don’t stand by when they are breaking their hearts crying or they have fallen in the playground- who could? I comfort, I care and at the end of the day, caring is why I became a teacher in the first place.
In reality, as a mother, I know that my daughter does not get enough comfort from her school. Last year, when she was in reception, I picked her up from sfter school club to find that all the children were outside, enjoying the last of the sunshine before Autumn set in. I scanned the playground for my daughter and eventually spotted her sitting at one of the benches on the far side of the playground. She didn’t see me because she was sitting- alone- with her head down, swinging her feet mournfully. When she did see me, she ran to me and burst into tears. It later emerged that she had been feeling unwell and so was put onto a bench and left until I arrived. That image of her, alone, poorly and upset still haunts me now. I wish that her teachers had felt confident enough to give her a small cuddle, maybe a cushion to lie on or a shoulder to cry on. Its the small things that make our children feel cared for and sometimes physcial contact is the only way.
Gove maintains that “Teachers should be trusted to touch children without feeling they are somehow transgressing the rules of appropriate conduct.” and I think he’s right. I want to feel that I can comfort the children I am responsible for. I want to know that my children will be comforted when I’m not there. It’s not too much to ask for.