I recently completed my first term in a British school. Before I moved over, I thought the main reason I would enjoy the British system would be for the overall professional life: CPD, curriculum, etc, and of course I do. But rather than The Big Things™, it’s the smallest ones that I realize make the difference. This isn’t to say that every British school is like mine, but there is the expectation that schools are safe, children are looked after, and that they learn. And below are a few of the ways I’ve noticed the small things have the biggest impact:
I never truly understood how important this was until being in my school, and to be frank, I don’t know that any school I’ve ever worked at has this concept. For Americans reading, safeguarding is defined as “to denote measures to protect the health, well-being and human rights of individuals, which allow people—especially children, young people and vulnerable adults—to live free from abuse, harm and neglect.” You know those modules you do where you simulate how to walk a kid through a mental health crisis? Well, more than just a random phone number and one module every year, there is a safeguarding lead and a safeguarding culture: if you see something, if you notice something, if you have a concern, you report it. Even if you think it’s nothing, your report could be the one piece of the puzzle pointing to an underlying issue. This isn’t to say that I never was concerned for the welfare of my students before (and I’ve always worked in deprived areas) but it just wasn’t as big of a deal.
In British schools, you:
- Follow up when attendance slips, if a pupil is repeatedly late.
- Report if you notice a pupil wearing a uniform shirt that has the same stain from the previous day.
- Report any instance of bullying and it is reported dealt with swiftly and appropriately (and pupils trust this system).
The basic principle of feeling invested in your school site. All of the pupils know who you are simply because they see you around the school. More than simply a classroom teacher, you help run the school—corridor walks, making sure kids get to class and don’t waste time, being vigilant on the staircases, and actual duties during lunch and break times.
There’s a bit of a joke that I have with my pupils that whenever they walk past me they ‘always know’ that I’m going to call them on the smallest things: making sure they have their lanyards on, doing their top buttons. One of my year 9s who I won’t be teaching next term said ‘oh no, you’re now just going to be the lady that always tells me to use the one-way system’ and this is true. For the first time in a long time, I’m invested in seeing my school be “The Best We Can” and this is shown in the simple title of what I’m expected to do: my duty.
Breaks and Timetables
I tweeted about this before, but the simple existence of a daily break. At the school I worked in before, the pupils had 25 minutes for lunch, 10 of which would have been spent in the queue, so the idea was sit down, eat, go back to class.
There was no 20-minute break midway through the day. Lunch did not have playtime outside. Everything was mechanical: never having a moment to just spend time and get some energy out so that you can be focused when you get back to class. The reason that some American teachers want to create a ‘home away from home’ is precisely because the schools can function inhumanely.
In my school, we greet each other all of the time. A simple “good morning [name]” starts the day, a “good afternoon” greets them as they enter the classroom. They find me at break time and say ‘”Hi Miss, do I have you for English today? OK, see you soon.” We pick up trash if we see it, there are days when the kids are having bad days, as teenagers do, and if they are rude, they are sanctioned and then they come to apologize to you of their own regard. They trust us to do the right thing and they know when they’ve crossed a line. They have an expectation of what a teacher is meant to do, how they are to act, and as pupils, they know their role as well. The animosity I experienced in my previous schools with kids swearing at me, throwing things, threatening to shoot the school if we sanctioned them just wouldn’t happen here. And this is because there is a professional culture that is set and supported by my school leadership team.
I also received thank you cards for Christmas from pupils in the school. They weren’t told to make them for me, they weren’t forced to write a nice note, they just wanted to. There is a culture of genuine gratitude from staff and pupils.
For British Teachers Reading American Tweets
Please keep this in mind: So many American schools, at least the ones I have been in, are unsafe. Far more are not places of joy. They are placed to be suffered until you can leave and be gone of the memories (I feel so privileged that I had the experience I did. I am not the norm). Rather than a staff that cares for you, you may find one teacher who you can trust, and then it becomes a 1:1 dependent relationship that edges into blurred safeguarding boundaries.
If I notice a pupil doesn’t have money for lunch, I do not give them food. If I notice they have a uniform shirt that has been dirty for a few days, I do not bring their clothes to my home and wash them. If I think they are not getting love at home from their parents, I do not insert myself into the position. I refer it to our safeguarding team. My pupils ask me for help with their concerns all of the time, but they are not asking *me*.
They are asking the school to take care of it, and I am simply an extension of a system that they have trust in.