Enquire is a lifeline for parents who are struggling and need help as far as educational policies and law are concerned
Fiona Cowieson, Principal Teacher of Guidance, Fife
If you had to sum up the role of Guidance within the modern education system, how would you do it?
I feel my role as a guidance teacher is to have an overview of the social and emotional welfare and the academic progress of each pupil in my caseload and to monitor this from their move from primary to secondary school right through until they leave to go to work, college or university. The guidance teacher is an important link between the pupil, the parents and the school and is there to deal with social, emotional, curricular and vocational issues as and when they crop up.
If you could correct one misconception about Guidance staff, what would it be?
A common misconception about guidance teachers is that we are all “bleeding hearts”, only there to listen to problems all day with a box of man-sized tissues at the ready! Actually, guidance staff play a key role in the raising of attainment within the school. As well as sorting problems that might stop a child achieving his/her potential, we spend a lot of time monitoring academic progress and setting and reviewing targets with pupils. A thorough knowledge of all aspects of the pupil helps to make sure that targets are appropriate and realistic.
What advice would you give parents to get the best out of their relationship with their child’s Guidance teacher?
Parents often seem anxious that they are contacting the school about a trivial matter. We need to make sure parents realise that every member of staff in school has their child’s welfare at heart and that any matter, however small, that is affecting their child’s wellbeing is important to us. The earlier an issue is brought to our attention, the easier it is to deal with and the more quickly it can be addressed. At the same time, parents need to be aware that guidance staff have a fairly hefty teaching commitment on top of their pastoral duties and may not always be able to deal with a situation immediately. It helps to make appointments in advance, for example, rather than turning up unannounced in reception. Finally, guidance staff may not be able to solve all the problems that come our way, but we do have contact with a large number of other agencies who can be referred to for further help when necessary.
What is involved in a typical day – and what else might you be required to deal with?
In the school I work in, there are nearly 1800 pupils and 220 in my caseload, so I can be dealing with anything from a pupil needing an ice pack for a bump on the head, to the repercussions of online bullying from the night before and on a bad day, even child protection issues. Guidance staff deal with a huge variety of problems and spend a lot of time speaking with individual pupils, gathering information from staff, talking on the phone and meeting with parents and outside agencies and report writing. And then of course there are classes to teach!
What led you to becoming a Guidance teacher, and is this very different from your initial experiences of subject teaching?
I think it was a desire to have a more holistic relationship with my pupils that led me to become a guidance teacher. I feel it is very important that every pupil in a school feels really known, not just for his or her achievements but as an individual, by at least one member of staff and that he or she knows that this person can be relied upon for support when necessary. I enjoy getting to know the children in a more informal way than the constraints of the French class normally allow and find that teaching PSE is an excellent forum for this.
What is the most rewarding part of the job?
For me the most rewarding part of the job is feeling that I have made a positive difference in someone else’s life. It makes my day when an ex-pupil pops in to tell me all about their new job or how much they are enjoying their college or university course.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your job?
The most valuable lesson I have learned is that no matter how trivial a problem might at first seem, it is always very real to the person who is coming to you with it and must be treated seriously. Respect and empathy are a must in this job. It is also important to accept that you can’t solve everything on your own and to know when to pass a problem on to someone with more specialised expertise.
What constraints or barriers do you face in your job?
The main thing I feel constrained by in my job as a guidance teacher is time. The sheer number of people I am involved with and the endless variety of problems they come to me with, means I never really feel I have finished! I often feel bad about having to dash off from one task to another without having properly resolved the issue and would love to have more time to do things more thoroughly! Having said that, it is the same endless variety and the adrenalin rush of having to multitask