I have two vivid memories of feeling anonymous from my school days. My first experience occurred when I was 15 and I had signed up to the school’s House Music competition. The deputy head of my house – who was involved in organising our performance – also happened to be my English teacher and had been teaching me for a year. But she met me in this new scenario and did not know who I was, let alone my name!
A second time…
I had gone to a Sixth Form options evening at school and visited the music department. Having had a conversation with the teacher, she then invited me to join the school wind band. Little did she know, I had already been attending said wind band (which she conducted) on a weekly basis for the past three years! As you can imagine, this was especially humiliating for me being a teenager.
How this affects pupils and what we can do
These experiences made me feel unseen, invisible and unvalued. They highlight the extent to which some teachers can fail to notice the quieter students in their classroom. I would go so far as to say that this is detrimental to a person’s mental health. Do we really want our quiet students to grow up thinking that they don’t matter? Should we not be celebrating all personalities in the classroom? I believe that these types of experiences can start to make quiet students question their worth if they continue to go through their school journey unnoticed. I think this can lead to increased anxiety and consequently poor mental well-being further down the line.
However, we can do things differently! And many teachers are thankfully brilliant at this. I had one amazing teacher at school that stood out amongst the less than great examples I have described. She did know my name, and she knew me! I was very shy, but I felt valued and included in her lessons and most importantly I felt safe. I knew I may have to sometimes answer questions verbally in her class, but I felt secure that she would not push me beyond what I would be able to handle, because she made me feel understood and supported. Essentially, I felt seen, and my quietness did not render me invisible as it did in many other classes!
For a shy student like me, this was everything, and I was quite upset when I was no longer in her class after two years. Her influence has stayed with me forever.
So…teachers, please know the power and impact you have on young minds. One quiet student who feels invisible is one too many.