Over the last few weeks. I have spoken to a lot of very tired students, who are feeling really overwhelmed by the return to secondary school. It is not surprising, they have had so much to deal with over the last few months. They are going from being at home, which inevitably tends to lead to later bedtimes and wake ups, to having to switch back into what can be a very tiring routine. Even worse, they are not going back to the school they knew. The world has changed so dramatically since March, and they are having to cope with new rules, such as face masks and one-way systems. For those who have moved from primary to secondary, a change that can be overwhelming at the best of times, there has been even more to contend with. It is not surprising that students (and adults) are feeling exhausted. I do not have any magical answers, but I do have a few tips that might make it that little bit easier for students to readjust.
This is by far and away the most important thing your child can do right now. Their bodies are having to adjust to a whole new routine, and it is vital for them not to fight these changes, but instead give themselves the rest they need. You cannot force your child to go to bed, especially if they are an older teenager, but you can make sure they have an environment that is going to encourage sleep. Move the TV out, take the phone away, cut off the electricity. Alright probably not that last one, but you get the idea! I found when I was teaching full time that even half an hour of extra sleep could make a difference to my energy levels the next day.
Many students are going from days that were light on structure, to days and routines that for many of them feel overwhelming. They should have a school timetable, but making one that highlights extra-curricular activities may help you pinpoint if they are trying to fit too much into one day. The timetable should also incorporate time for relaxing and socialising with friends. Ideally they should have a recuperation night, for me this is always Friday night, as I am so exhausted by this point. There is no one size fits all when it comes to this, but it is important that your child is taking responsibility for how they are using their time, and looking after themselves.
It is important that your child knows what they have coming up each day, and that they have thought through in advance what they need and where they need to be. They need to know which lessons they have coming up each day, where they need to be, and which lessons have homework due. For some of you, this may sound really obvious, but I know plenty of students who are this organised, and it shows!
Many schools have moved away from traditional homework diaries and planners, and now use electronic systems. Whilst these can work really effectively, they do also rely on internet access and computer equipment, and I still recommend having a physical diary as a backup. I find that when the homework has been set electronically, students zone out when I am explaining it, as they know they can read it later on in the day. When they have to write it down they are more engaged, and therefore more likely to ask me questions.
Another tip is to always pack school bags the night before. Your child should not be running around trying to find books/homework in the morning. This is how things get lost and forgotten, and it also means that your child will not arrive at school in the correct mindset for learning, as they will be in their stressed zone.
Ask for Help
This is such a difficult and unprecedented time for teachers, as they are trying to assess where students have fallen behind, and what interventions need to be in place. But rather than waiting for and expecting teachers to do all the catch up, students can start to take responsibility for their own progress. They need to be encouraged to take advantage of support that is offered to them, for example lunchtime homework surgeries, where they can ask teachers for support. It may mean giving up a lunch break, but they can balance this out with rest time after school. The opportunity to work with their teachers face-to-face is what has been so desperately missed by students (even if they do not care to admit it), so they need to make sure they are turning up when the extra help is offered.
Similarly, if they have concerns and need help, going to see their teachers is a must. As a teacher, I would always prefer to hear directly from the student him/herself if they are struggling, as it means that they have enough trust in me to approach me with their concerns. If your child does not feel comfortable approaching teachers, then could they speak to a form tutor, or a student services manager? The support is there, and adults do want to help, but your child may have to be more proactive in seeking it out.
If you are looking for further English support for your secondary child, then Bright Sky Tutoring can help. I offer one to one and small group lessons. To find out more, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.