Should students have the “choice” to misbehave?
(This is my last word on this. Promise.)
No? But of course they will make that “choice” anyway. Mostly because they’re kids. That’s the problem with teaching: the difficulty in securing and sourcing the highest quality raw materials. They just come in the door from their own, individual backgrounds with their own thoughts, feelings and idiosyncrasies. Bloody kids. They just won’t do as they’re told. Not like it was in my day. In the days when kids could be excluded without impunity (expelled we called it) or indeed not sought after when they didn’t even come to school. In the days when they could nip off early on a Thursday afternoon to hang off the back of a milk van. But not anymore. It’s health and safety or political correctness gone mad or its the fault of immigration or progressive liberal ideas or socialism or terrorists or the “blob” or bad SLT, its their fault… (insert Daily Mail/Express headline here).
It’s “whimsical, fantasist nonsense” (not my words – credit goes to @ryansecondarysc for that one – its important to acknowledge these things I know) to imagine a situation where systems, processes, professionalism and relationships might envisage a place where negotiation is what builds the ethos. Really? There are teachers who believe, in a kind of Midwich Cuckoos way, that kids should either just “be” good or be put in schools where there is no other option or…what?
After my last post for #blogsync, an interesting Saturday night ensued and then some more moderate enquiries, some supportive, some challenging about the fact that good learning follows good behaviour. This is not something that I ever challenged. I believe this. I practise this. It’s established. So why does the idea, the perceived concession to establishing positive relationships with students, whatever that looks like, seem to cause so much annoyance?
I’ve waited a little while to write this post. Not to calm down or even to further consider my opinion on last weeks discussion around behaviour and relationships. More so to make sure that, when I write this, I make sure that I concede nothing. I thought about starting this post with phrases like, “don’t get me wrong” or “please understand that…” but I have nothing to explain about myself or my career or my credentials. In a week where job descriptions and titles have taken a bit of a bashing, I know what my skill set is and the range of schools in which I have taught and will teach in. I don’t need to explain my philosophy to anyone. It is important to engage in the discussion however, anything else does a disservice to the job and the kids that we all, hopefully, want to teach as well as we can.
The truth of the matter is that relationships are extremely important. They’re not a substitute for substandard teaching. You can’t “relationship” your way out of teaching badly. But they are a big part of securing good or better teaching. The classroom in which relationships are positive, whether they be humorous, businesslike where everyone knows their place and where the “line” is, or indeed based on simple reward and sanction will be richer than one where the teacher displays contempt for, or worse, apathy for the students therein. And kids know. And it’s obvious from the minute you walk in. It matters. And it’s also a huge part of the professionalism of a teacher. This is why anyone can’t just walk in and “teach”: behaviour, relationships, regulation, negotiation, prediction, prevention, reward and sanction, judge jury and executioner are all integral parts of the role. They have to be learned. Informed by research, practice and experience. I don’t care how you establish relationships. I would suggest simply that it’s more important to do it than to not. It will enhance your working life and beyond and make a huge difference to the kids who may only experience this kind of relationship in one place. Your classroom.
It’s ironic really. The last time I spent a Saturday night with that many people suggesting that I didn’t know where certain parts of my anatomy were in relation to others, I woke up and it had been a particularly nasty anxiety dream. Furthering the irony, I had, the week before, finally been successful in being appointed to an Assistant Principal post. Feels like a long time coming, bridesmaids and brides etc. Part of the reason I was appointed, I was told, was that I was able to display a pragmatism about learning and teaching that balanced the idea of drive and deliberate practice with clear ideas about engagement and staff development. Or, as it was referred to by a tweeter: “whimsical, fantasist, nonsense”.
I set up a blog to write about learning and teaching: pedagogy. And I guess I’ve committed one of the cardinal sins or “doh” moments of Twitter: getting drawn into a debate about things that are inflammatory for the sake of argument. Schools are in an odd situation in that we are expected to write the script that future societies will act out, but more often, in reality, we become the screen on which society unfolds its own narrative. This is why, when corporate friends tell me I don’t work in the “real world” I’m confused. Schools, most of them at least, are the display cabinet for all social change, precipitated by whatever policy or event occurs – we are the people who deal with the fallout with the most vulnerable in society. Children. It’s not wrong to assume that they will change, fuelled by their parents and the rights and responsibilities they are expected to display and demand. We can institutionalise them to a point with uniform, systems, expectations and sanctions but ultimately they make the “choice” of how to behave or not. I still don’t know how we remove that choice. Really. And if anyone can make that clear, please let me know.
Next time I will go back to pedagogy. It’s what I love and what I will be immersed in from this point on. My new post is in a challenging school, a choice I made deliberately because I think it’s important. It’s exciting and I’m pretty sure it’s the niche I’ve been looking for. What I will definitely take with me though, is a sense of true whimsical, fantasist, nonsense. None of us can really do without it. 😉