A personal perspective by our Senior Moderator
Are we fostering a need for neediness?
When schools sprayed the desks, re-opened their doors after Covid and the students returned, there was rightly some concern about how they might have been affected by the pandemic and their mixed feelings about re-joining the classroom culture.
In the intervening couple of years, whilst most students seemed to have happily embraced the return to a traditional education, there has been an emerging trend in some schools for leaders and teachers to exaggerate the impact of the pandemic and enable, if not encourage, the supposed ‘anxiety’ of their students. I have heard a Headteacher wringing her hands and searching for an explanation for poor mock grades bemoan that ‘they did lose two years to Covid’. This is clearly a misguided and delusional nonsense. In reality, they lost two terms of school-based education. During these two terms they were not in a vegetative coma – they were offered online learning, baked banana bread and kept fit with Joe Wicks. Let’s be honest – for the overwhelming majority, it really wasn’t that bad.
Why are we collectively condoning neediness?
Why then are some teachers clinging to covid like a crusty old comfort blanket and sometimes seemingly condoning the neediness and lack of resilience of students; replacing the virus with an epidemic of anxiety and a disproportionate preoccupation with the tenuous concept of well-being? Being a teenager is tough. Revising for and sitting exams obviously generates a natural degree of worry and nervousness. This is not a symptom of and should not be diagnosed as a case of declining mental health and it should not be treated with a catalogue of concessions which encourage and enable helplessness.
If a child can only sit exams printed on mint green paper, in a room by themselves, wearing ear-defenders and after an hour of listening to mindful whale noises, where are they imagining these qualifications will take them? Where is the workplace willing to replicate these conditions?
So why are some schools and teachers allowing students to focus excessively on their well-ness, identify an inner zen when this could be detrimental to their wider education and eventual employability? Of course, there have always been the teachers with the almost embarrassingly prurient interest in the private lives of their students who engage with their problems to feed their need to be liked. But the issue seems to have become much more widespread than this. Could it be that it is the teachers themselves who are yearning for reduction in workload, responsibility and accountability which Lockdown brought for most. Days spent posting in the Google Classroom, attending a few Zoom Meetings, walking the dog and counting the minutes before the home ‘bar’ can reasonably open may have had more allure than a full-time timetable and real time students. And, the miraculous progress evidenced by the Centre Assessed Grades will be harder to justify when the real exams make fewer allowances.
For many teachers, this glimpse of a different life may have been so tempting that it is they who have lost some of their resilience and are looking for excuses if not the exit.
I can appreciate that the tone and content of this article will seem harsh and that a caveat is probably needed. I fully understand that there are students who have significant additional needs, students and teachers who genuinely suffer from severe mental illness and those whose experience of Covid was brutal. But, for these individuals to be given the support and treatment they need and deserve there needs to be a shift in perception across the profession and a conscious return to the mantra of resilience and the engendering of moral fibre.
Internet statistics would suggest our young people are groping blindly in a fog of post Great War traumatic stress, where self-harm doubled in the 2020 autumn term and there was a 68% rise in suicidal thoughts. But as adults is it not us who are encouraging children to dwell on their own personal negativity in our bid for us to feel needed and useful? Should we not be telling them about those less fortunate, like in days of old, rather than pandering to a need to be treated as a mentally ill patient? Ahead lies a world of jobs and accountability and no employer will extend such lenience to a member of staff who eternally rides on the scorched earth side-effects of the Covid aftermath.
Collectively, we need to get a grip.
We survived, we’re fully vaccinated and we’re back in business. That business has always been and must continue to be providing the best possible education and outcomes for the children in our care. To do this we must guard against creating a culture which values labels, disorders and concessions more than hard-earned qualifications.