Creative Teacher Support

Creative, practical support and discussion for classroom teachers everywhere

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In the pale Endymion hour
Love and Money – “Jocelyn Square”

Kids are really badly behaved. It’s true. I’ve read it in quite a few blogs now, a couple of newspaper articles, politicians’ speeches, the queue at the Post Office and in many a staff room in many a school in many areas. So, there you go. Totally true. Kids are, it seems, according to much research, small human beings with what appears to be brains of their own. Newsnight are planning a special.

Too much sarcasm? Try to read on if you can.

When I started to blog, I promised myself it would be largely devoted to writing about and reflecting on learning and teaching – the thing (apart from young people) that I’m most passionate about in my job. But the recent Twitter chatter around behaviour (I said the word “guff” out loud when reading one blog and had to explain to my 4 year old what I meant – read it – it’s a polarising read: http://goodbyemisterhunter.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/dear-blogger-2/ ) has urged me to write about behaviour.

It’s difficult to describe yourself in terms of your approach to behaviour. Terms used recently seem to damn approaches other than didacticism, calling them things like “progressive” or “child centred”. It’s a bit like being too liberal. Firm but fair is the acceptable, “interview” face of behaviour management. It maintains a nice, almost Mussolini-esque approach to organisation whilst affording a more “Care-Bear” centred approach to everyone “mattering”. It is, I’d say, the ideal. But the skill involved and the work in getting to this point cannot be understated.

Now it’s important to note that I don’t underestimate the hill that we all, at least many of us climb, when we enter school and classrooms. I started teaching in a tough school in Bolton. In many ways it was the best possible start. The kids were tough, many of them from challenging backgrounds – teaching there – learning to do it pretty well – has meant that I’m pretty comfortable in most situations. I know I’m lucky in a lot of ways because of this, it does mean that the middle class rebellion or waves of “low level” disruption are firmly in perspective.

I still remember speaking to my Head of Department after a difficult day and telling him that I wouldn’t give up on whichever class was difficult. His approach was always to look at me, nonplussed, saying “yep”. I know now what he meant. What else would you do? What else can you do? Ultimately, kids will turn up and so will you. They need to be taught and you need to find a way to make that happen.

The truth remains that, for many kids, school is the safest place to practice rebellion. Whether its talking while the teacher is talking, wearing a tie in the wrong way, refraining from wearing a blazer or appropriate shoes or even insisting that your teacher should continue forth and multiply are all symptoms of the fact that we endeavour to, and often do, in the most challenging of circumstances provide a safe environment. It’s a frustrating fact of the job but, as well as refining our pedagogy, behaviour management is key to ensuring engagement, compelling learning experiences and ultimately progress. There’s no point in complaining about “kids these days” or the lack of consequences for students in schools, its an argument as old as time – proven by the number of times the Socrates quote is used in Inset (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/63219-our-youth-now-love-luxury-they-have-bad-manners-contempt).

There are situations in which behaviour can be a huge albatross – without the support of clear sanctions, systems and processes or proactive SLT, it can be a nightmare. Tom Bennet outlines the simple but perfect way to manage behaviour here http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storyCode=6324197 . He acknowledge the simplicity and the boring mundanity of it himself.

The truth is, as I have read many of the comments of teachers and politicians, the overwhelming feeling that comes through is that we need to be better. Some teachers manage behaviour beautifully through fear and force of personality, some are relentless in their following of procedures and clear delineation of where “the line” is and sticking slavishly to it. Some are funny, engaging and fabulous at what they do, planning lessons that mean that students are in the learning instead of thinking of anything else. The list goes on and it’s probably safe to say that there are as many strategies as there are teachers. It’s also safe to say that few, if any of us, have “cracked” it. Every year we will all have “that” class and will ave to resolutely try everything and anything in order to get them on board and learning as much and as far as we can.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people but also to build a reputation that means I often “acquire” students from other classes who, when combined with me and the other personalities, often slot in without the hassle they created before. This is not an underlining of my abilities, as an AST, I should do this. I’m supposed to. The frustrating thing about this is the reason I withdrew from an early foray into Pastoral work. I hated shouting at and disciplining kids on behalf of other teachers who, when the situation was fully explained, could be forgiven for their treatment of that teacher.

The days of “my way or the highway” (an actual quote from a colleague) are gone. As Ken Robinson says, we are teaching the “most stimulated generation in history”. Now this doesn’t mean that we should lower our standards but it does mean that we should raise our game in terms or what we provide. I’m not suggesting some kind of shallow “show” that is a surface experience. I am saying that kids are kids and probably always have been. If we expect them to sit silently and have information “transmitted” to them, almost “downloaded” into their heads, then I suspect that we underestimate the complexity of the learning process. We can talk at length about what a “life skill” it is to be able to sit quietly and do as you’re told but I have to ask the question, is it?

I’d like to ask my colleagues to consider how damaging it is to suggest that behaviour management should be delivered to us from above. In combination with a portrayal of kids as “feral”, we “de-skill” ourselves in the eyes of those who already view the profession with suspicion as our militancy grows in the face of a Titanic struggle that may only be equalled by that that the miners experienced in the eighties. In truth, teaching is complex and simple at the same time. At the same time as we aim to support young minds in their engineering of cognition, we also need to show them that we care, and basically that we like them. My Dad always said that the best judges of character are kids and dogs; I’ve discussed it with groups of kids before, they’re crystal clear on the signals sent out, however subliminally, by the adults who teach them. Basically, they will try it on. It’s up to us to control, cajole, interest and resiliently redirect.

I seldom shout as I reach almost the end of my fifteenth year of teaching. When I do, it’s quite something (I’m six three, played rugby for most of my life and am from just outside Glasgow) but the thing that I aim to do is project a sense of humour that doesn’t undermine the serious nature of what we’re doing. If I have to send a student out of the class or, on the rare occasion that have to be removed from mine or any colleagues’ rooms, I insist that they return to the class. There should be no time served elsewhere. Kids are at school to be taught, that’s where they should be. We are the adults. We have trained for a significant time to do our job. It is incumbent upon us to be flexible enough and care enough to accommodate the behaviour of the kids in our care, maintain our standards, but care enough to teach them.

There is no Endymion hour.

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Author: Gordon Baillie

I am an Advanced Skills teacher in a large comprehensive school in the North West of the UK. Trained in Scotland, I have worked in a number of different settings in my almost fifteen years of teaching. I have been working with both my own and other local schools and their teachers to both enhance and improve learning and teaching for a number of years now. I am an experienced trainer of both trainee and experienced teachers and have contributed to both local and national conferences around learning and teaching, particularly around Assessment for Learning as well as being asked to contribute to keynote addresses around other, more generic areas of teaching. I believe that teaching and particularly learning are deeply creative pursuits and that the only way to continue to enhance them and the practice of teachers is to collaborate.

13 thoughts on “

  1. I think there is a tremendous value in being able to sit and listen. It is, after all, the skill that will allow you to sit and listen to your own children with your full attention while they give you a blow-by-blow of a movie they adore that you can’t stand, or lay out before you the details of how their best friend has slighted them for 3 whole days. It is something we need for relationships and to do our jobs. How to help kids learn to do this in an overstimulated age is harder to say. But it isn’t just about creating a compliant group of people. It’s about helping people learn rather than grasp for stimulation and entertainment, but I find the biggest problem for my students is managing frustration–not boredom. To prevent disruptive impulses, I have to help them learn to persist through difficult tasks when they would prefer to give up or act out.

    • Thanks for commenting. I couldn’t agree more with what you say – particularly about persisting – both for teachers and kids. The resilience to behaviour and, for kids, in boredom or frustration is key to cracking this. My frustration comes from a deep seam in the teacher cohort who seem to believe that good behaviour should drop into our laps or be explained away by a broken system or “kids these days” approach.

      • Oh, that is sad. As much as our subjects, I believe we are teaching children how to behave. Good behavior comes with hard work–on everyone’s parts.

  2. Great blog Gordon. I am a HT of a school in Birmingham and I firmly believe that the key to behaviour is the building of relationships with our children, the time to stop and chat, the time to take interest is reciprocal especially if that is what we are asking our children to do. Compliance is boring, it makes for dull children, being inspirational and capturing the imagination of our children is vital but if you cannot do that knowing something more deeper than than the children’s names helps to keep them engaged. Would you mind if I add a link from my daily HT blog? You can take a look before you respond http://405910231508622688.weebly.com My staff would be really interested to read what you have to say.

    • Hi Gerrard. Thanks so much for your kind comments. I couldn’t agree more with with what you say.
      Loved your blog. No worries about attaching a link – I’d be honoured. Thank you.

  3. An interesting piece. Your comment about pastoral care struck a chord. As deputy in a primary school I often have colleagues ‘send me’ children who have kicked off. They are often the children who I have worked tirelessly with, built up a relationship with and am someone who the children come to when they feel its going wrong. All of this can be put under threat by teachers who do expect children to sit, listen and behave.

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s souls destroying when colleagues should work harder to cultivate the relationship you speak of. We should be better at that. Thanks again for commenting. Keep your chin up!

      • Chin is most certainly up. The look of disappointment on a child’s face when they arrive at my room. sums it up. I don’t need to shout. They also hope that the relationship won’t change, feeling saddenend theat they have let me down, and slipped back into their old ways. Many children just need somone to believe in them, rather than will them to be the child that they don’t want to be, and often try so hard not to be!

      • Brilliant! Sounds like the kids at your school are lucky to have you. I think it’s more simple than some people suggest. Sounds like your kids know you care, and in a dead simple way, like them. Thanks again for commenting. Glad it chimed with you. Flattered you liked it.

  4. This is a superb blog Gordon – thank you. I’ve been wrangling with behaviour all term and struggling to figure out what to think to be honest. I’ve been used to working in ‘challenging’ schools and have recently moved to a far more leafy affair where behaviour is in some ways more challenging. I think I find it easier to empathise and support a child who I know has little support at home, than one whose parents fawn over him and struggle to see how he could possibly be difficult to teach. That’s my prejudice I know and I’m working on it! What your writing reminds me is that there is always a way through. I really needed that reminder so thanks.

    • Thanks for commenting. Really flattered you’ve taken the time. I really get what you’re saying. Sometimes “middle class” revolt and the amount of low level disruption is appalling from kids who are over indulged at home. It truly is a war of attrition. You’re right when you say that it’s just a different battle tho. Thanks again.

  5. Thank you. It’s very refreshing to see a blog that acknowledges the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of managing behaviour, and which doesn’t fall back on the old ‘kids these days’ cliches.

    I get very cross when teachers blog about how awful children are, as though their experience of a small minority of very damaged young people is somehow representative of how things are right across the profession.

    Thank you for taking such a measured view and for expressing it so eloquently. I really enjoyed reading this.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m really flattered. And I do agree with you too. The chat on twitter blaming kids and SLT seems ridiculous.
      Thanks again.

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