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.