Making Our Private Lives Public

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Jack Gulston

Jack writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a primary perspective and is in his third year of teaching. He worked as a teaching assistant in a special needs school for 3 years before going on to complete his education degree. He is currently teaching...
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Should we share our private lives with pupils?

As I approach the last 4 weeks of my third teaching year, it dawned on me that my class know a lot about my life.

This is the second time I have taught this group and they were my first ever class. 23 out of the 30 are the same, but the majority know that I have a partner, that I used to work as a teaching assistant at a special needs school and they also know that my parents are divorced, I have a half brother and I have only ever met my real dad once.

Now, you are probably reading this thinking, why on earth am I talking to the children in my class about this?! What a waste of learning time! But I think that having children understand your journey helps them understand that life isn’t perfect and as a teacher, we have difficulties in our lives as well.

Sharing Is Caring

I will give you a bit of context. I work in one of the worst performing local authorities in the country. The primary school I work in has a high mobility rate, a higher proportion of Free School Meals than any other school in our area and over 40% SEN. Most children in the school come from broken families and have little to no aspirations.

This is why I feel that sharing things with the children about my life will hopefully inspire them and show that anything really is possible if they put their mind to it.

If I share part of my life with them and it inspires at least one child, I would be over the moon.

I am not saying that I had the worst upbringing in the world, I didn’t. I was very lucky in many aspects of my life, but I really think that for children to achieve, you need to be able to connect with them on an emotional level. A good friend of mine always tells me it’s about attachment. She may have a point.

Share And Tear

Now, I am not talking about going into class in the morning after having a blazing row with your partner and offloading to the children, it has to be at the right time. I usually find during P4C sessions, PHSE sessions or even RE lessons. I don’t tell the children to ask me questions, the dialogue with the children takes a natural course and then eventually the children begin to ask me questions about my life that they are intrigued about.

I think with the children having an understanding of my life, they understand what obstacles I have had to overcome, so that can inspire them to overcome any obstacles they might face. I can see why not everyone will love this idea, but I have found that it works for me and the area and school I work in.

What do you share?

If you do anything like this, it would be great to hear what you share with your class. My good friend who talks about attachment, regularly talks about her children and how they are and what they do and how she went through university whilst pregnant. Se doesn’t do it now, since she now teaches nursery, but it was a regular topic in her year 2 class.

I genuinely believe that having these open conversations with the children in your class can only benefit them in the long run. Make them believe in you, so they can believe in themselves.

4 thoughts on “Making Our Private Lives Public

  1. I became a teacher 45. I share the fact I found maths hard and had to do my gcse at 40. I share things I continue to learn. Last year it was hedge laying and knitting socks. I share these things because it hells kids realise it’s ok to struggle. perserverence will get you there. I also talk about my kids and dogs as most of my class have pets. I find it makes a huge difference to the relationships you build with pupils. Trust makes them more prepared to take risks.

  2. I have just picked up some new classes and as an ice breaker I put up words and numbers connected to me; 3 (I have 3 kids), Coventry (I was born there), 145 ( I am 145cm tall), purple (favourite colour), 5 (I have 5 tattoos), volleyaball (I uswd to play at county level), Belgium (I lived there when I was 8), 2003 (I started teaching), 6 (I went to 6 primary schools). The kids have really enjoyed guessing at what they all are and getting to know me. I believe it makes them realise that you are human, have a life outside of school and I have done some interesting stuff. Building those relationships are hugely important and the quicker you do that the easier it is to get on with the learning.

  3. I have been a teacher for 4 years and all the students I have taught have grown to respect me and become motivated through my openness and honesty about things in my own life. I’ve shared how I met my husband at 15 and we stuck it out for 12 years, how I have two small children and what it means to work full time with them as well as little bits about how school was for me etc. And this year has been the most uplifting in a school where the kids want to know about life skills and just life but some of the teachers are very reluctant and so I have had a number of students confide in me and say they trust me due to me being open and honest about who I am. I think teenagers need to feel teachers are normal people with normal lives too and can understand them in order for them to trust us don’t they need to feel we trust them with those small bits about our lives that we would tell anyone else in a networking situation or small talk so they are not pieces of information that’s private or personal in the sense of talking to a friend but merely to gauge that connection of interest and desire to want to be there. As I am a secondary maths teacher a lot of students I’ve taught have expressed how difficult they find maths and how many times they just couldn’t get it but were frightened to ask and many have told me at the end of a year how by me being an open person and encouraging that interaction has improved their confidence and motivation and willingness to progress.
    Every nqt I meet, I advise to be you and only you can be the person to change the students you teach and guide them into progressing so let them feel you care and trust them for them to trust and respect you. I feel it makes a huge difference to share experiences and who you are (appropriately and not in too much detail).

  4. I am the mentoring program coordinator for our area school districts. One of the keys in mentoring students (and adults for that matter) is transparency. When we stick to just facts and figures, we become “just one more adult” who seems to have it all together. However, when we reveal a bit of ourselves and the struggles that we’ve gone through and more importantly, how we have overcome those struggles, it builds trust and helps students realize that the they don’t have to allow the circumstances of life, the words spoken over them, abuse/neglect, or even their own mistakes to define them.

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