What are teachers for?

Michelle McBride writes about healthy eating in schools in her article called “It is not teachers who sneak chocolate in kids’ lunchboxes.” in the Independent on the 21st October 2015.

I agree with her that not every new social concern can be foisted on to the teacher’s desk but there are some issues within her article that made me start to think about the teacher’s role in school and society as a whole. Is the teacher’s role only in literacy, numeracy and the so-called academic subjects? Or should the teacher be expected to deal with the social, health and personal issues of their students?

The Teaching Council lays out one of our many functions, it tells us that teachers are expected to promote their student’s holistic development and develop lifelong learning skills

Also, in the Primary School Curriculum, one of the specific aims of schooling/curriculum is to “develop a foundation for healthy living and a sense of responsibility for his or her own health”. This is referred to on numerous occasions throughout the document before we even come to the SPHE curriculum, where lessons are taught explicitly in the area of health education.

A glance at recent research on this subject tells us that “Children are more likely to develop a taste for vegetables if they are offered with foods they know and like.” (Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) Another study from the Nutrition Research Centre says that role models are the most important thing when helping children try new foods. There is so much information that is conflicting out there on the issue of health education!

But, neither Michelle nor any specific teacher can be held responsible for researching all of these new healthy eating initiatives. This is the role of curriculum makers and dietitians. Teachers are not dietitians and I am always weary at the idea of teaching what I think is healthy. Last year, it was the 5:2 diet and today, it’s all “Free from” foods. Will the government get up to date with the latest research on health education?

Michelle finishes by mentioning the teacher’s most loved subject areas of literacy and numeracy and how these are in “ a danger of being undernourished” due to her belief that teachers are taking on too many initiatives. While, she may be correct about curriculum overload, I think there is more to life and the school day than spellings and tables tests.

I believe that if we can help children to be socially and emotionally happy and healthy, that success will follow. Actually, it’s not only me who believes this, I can name countless studies that point to emotional and social literacy as being the most important skill you can develop in young children in school as a predictor of success. Cognitive skills can get a person so far. Cherry tomatoes will get you some way to living well but having good mental health will win every time.

Currently, the primary school curriculum has 30 minutes a week to teach everything there is to be taught about social, personal and health education. Michelle and I can agree that there is overload and that teachers cannot be expected to cover all social woes. But, what can we do? We can plan carefully for where we would like our children to end up as adults. That is the premise of all good education systems.

Michelle’s full article can be viewed here at http://goo.gl/dh5Ihl

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