Primary Musings

thoughts of an every day teacher

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Why we don’t need mental health first aid training.


Teresa May has announced this morning that her plans for mental health care include mental health first aid training for primary and secondary schools.

I can’t speak for secondary schools, but let me tell you that in primary schools, we already know our children inside out. We spend all day, every day with the same group of children and are well placed to spot any changes in behaviour or attitude. We know if children are especially irritable, or tired or more emotional than usual. We mostly know if there’s been a bereavement or breakdown in the family. We’re very aware of how to spot possible signs of abuse or domestic violence.

Because of this, we are already giving the maximum amount of pastoral support we can offer. At my school we have a brilliant team, including the SLT, SENCo, and two other support workers who are there to offer advice to staff, support to parents and work tirelessly with children to help take care of their mental health. In addition, everything we do is underpinned by our school values, which we explicitly teach to our children, helping them to nurture relationships, develop resilience and reflect on what is important to them. All vital for promoting good mental health.

If a mental health problem can be solved in school, we’re already on it.

Some things can be solved by a teacher or TA understanding you, supporting your parents and giving you a bit of extra attention. But some things definitely cannot. It’s very frustrating to see children in front of you all day who have complex needs that you don’t have the time or resources or expertise to meet. What we really need is adequate funding for access to counsellors, clinical psychologists and CAMHS, so that when a child is bereaved, severely traumatised, self-harming or has chaotic attachment, we can get them access to the specialists they need.

To continue the medical metaphor, we already have first aid kits in school, but what some children need is open heart surgery. I didn’t hear Teresa May offering to pay for that. Did you?



Things unseen

I love to read. Old ideas and new spin around my head at high velocity, colliding into each other like meteorites in space, sending my thoughts off into a completely different orbit from the original track.

I particularly love to read writers who pay serious attention to the ‘things unseen.’ Mostly, these are the things that really matter, but they are intangible and easily overlooked.

Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.

The best writers, though, use the tools of their trade to give these things shape, make them discernible and remind us of their importance.

Whatonomy’s post, We Dance, did this for me recently. The image of God being present throughout, but no one seeing his smile struck a chord because so much of what we do every day as teachers goes unseen. The way you constantly work to ‘catch’ that one child before he descends into a flat spin from which there will be no return. The many, many times you take a deep breath and consciously choose patience over frustration. The shared classroom jokes and enterprises. The child who never speaks getting so immersed in the drama that she forgets herself and talks in front of the whole class. The tiny victories won on the way towards fine motor skills, secure spelling, self-confidence. The peaceful, productive atmosphere as everyone is engaged in writing their very best story. That beautiful moment the whole class are on the edge of their seats, begging you to read the next chapter even though its break time.

In teaching it’s not too often that someone comes and says ‘you did a great job’ at the end of the day. It’s not that anyone is being particularly thoughtless or unkind, they’re just not in the room to see it. Most of the time it’s just you and the children. And quite honestly, there are some moments I’m glad no one saw!

But on the days you need some encouragement, take a moment to stand still, breathe in deep and look around.

You may just catch a glimpse of God’s smile.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:18