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In Praise of Harshness

November 14, 2007

These are the reasons why teachers should enforce the rules without any pity whatsoever:

  1. If you make an exception for one child then they will expect you to make an exception for all of them.
  2. If you ignore a rule then they will expect other teachers to do the same, even in situations where ignoring the rules will create anarchy.
  3. If enforcement of the rules is seen as optional for teachers then students will target teachers for “terroring” in order to intimidate them into ceasing to apply rules.
  4. They are more likely to remember a rule if they see someone punished for breaking it.
  5. They deserve it.

Here are the reasons why many teachers don’t enforce the rules:

  1. There aren’t enough hours in the day to give out adequate punishments.
  2. They teach subjects where learning is entirely optional and therefore enforcing rules is seen as unnecessary.
  3. They believe children (particularly those from deprived backgrounds) can’t be expected to behave.
  4. They are worried that senior management will create trouble for them if they give out too many punishments.
  5. No student over the age of 12 ever turns up for detentions anyway.
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11 comments

  1. Once again I find myself convinced that you and I are employed at the same school.


  2. “They deserve it.”

    A basic antagonism to student underlies everything that you say and recommend.

    Students can sometimes have valid excuses. Teachers can sometimes make mistakes. Rules can sometimes be incorrect. It is not a battlefield until you start treating it like one. By attempting to improve the situation by defining it in the worst terms possible, you cannot hope to improve it.

    Of course, I’m not saying that improving it is easy, nor that you are targetting people that are actually doing the right thing (the students, teachers, and SMT you right about are entirely dunderheaded). However, all you are doing is drawing up a ‘battleplan’ of how to survive a stalemate situation for as long as possible. That’s only good if you don’t actually want things to improve.


  3. “A basic antagonism to student underlies everything that you say and recommend.”

    I’ve heard this one before and it’s still nonsense.

    The kids are the victims of the anarchy in our classrooms and the dumbed down curriculum. While I have very little sympathy for those adolescents who use the weakness of our schools to prevent their peers from learning, my contempt for even the worst behaved kids (and they do deserve to be punished) is nothing compared to my contempt for the adults who mouth platitudes about being nice to the kids while attempting to destroy every last opportunity to learn.

    A generation of children are being robbed of their education, and all I hear from the robber-class, when they happen to stumble upon this site, is that I must hate children if I want them to learn, and I must be bad at teaching if I want them to behave.


  4. Consistency is the greatest kindness you can show a kid in school – it may be the only place they see it in their lives and is necessary for stuff like trust and true self-confidence to develop.
    In any organisation, consistency has to therefore mean behaving conistently not just yourself but within a wider framework.
    From this it follows that rules have to be applied consistently and not on an anarchic basis.


  5. I see James Joyce is back

    (Joke for those reading this before the post between this one and needles’ is deleted. A poetic stream of consciousness surrealism.)


  6. “A generation of children are being robbed of their education, and all I hear from the robber-class, when they happen to stumble upon this site, is that I must hate children if I want them to learn, and I must be bad at teaching if I want them to behave.”

    Yet you constantly identify that the children are the problem (“they deserve it”) whilst saying that the problem is actually caused by the system and those that run it.
    What is it going to be – ‘going to battle’ with the students everyday in the classroom, blaming them for the problems; or taking the battle elsewhere?

    Following your arguments, I might say that all you are doing is attempting to survive in a corrupt system, and daily punishing children for being involved in a corrupt system that they at no point helped to correct.
    Is there not a more constructive way to deal with this? I might even be tempted to say that using the students to lobby for change would be a good idea, although you paint them as feckless so often. Plenty of them would probably like to see consistent rules, discipline and learning (they do know what they are in school for, after all).

    “From this it follows that rules have to be applied consistently and not on an anarchic basis.”

    Is accepting valid excuses and external reasons as mitigating circumstances not consistent?


  7. Oldandrew:

    You can rationalize and attempt to explain it any way you choose, but in reading through your blog one characteristic dominates above all else: a palpable and virulent dislike of your pupils. I’ve read elsewhere that the class war in Britain is now most clearly manifested in clash between middle class teachers and working class kids in state schools, and your blog seems to substantiate that view-point.


  8. “Yet you constantly identify that the children are the problem (“they deserve it”)”

    I fear that this has more to do with a severe sense of humour failure on your part.

    I suppose I could have put something along the lines of “it is morally right to punish those who through their actions have harmed the education of others”, but I put “they deserve it” for no reason other than to wind up the po-faced.

    Seems to have worked too.


  9. “You can rationalize and attempt to explain it any way you choose, but in reading through your blog one characteristic dominates above all else: a palpable and virulent dislike of your pupils.”

    I’ve heard this again and again. Yet somehow every single example refers directly to a child who is misbehaving. And every bit of “virulent dislike” turns out to be recommending their removal from school or their just punishment.

    I’ll say it again: Wanting to punish those who steal learning from kids is not a hatred of kids, any more than wanting to lock muggers up is a hatred of the mugged.

    “I’ve read elsewhere that the class war in Britain is now most clearly manifested in clash between middle class teachers and working class kids in state schools, and your blog seems to substantiate that view-point.”

    Then you don’t have a clue. It is not a clash between teachers and kids. It is a clash between those pupils and staff who want teaching to take place, and those pupils and staff who don’t.

    There are major issues of class and culture here, but they do not run across the lines you suggest. It is very often the most middle class teachers who are most willing to appease the worst kids. It is very often the poorest kids, particularly recent immigrants, who most want to learn.

    But it is, of course, convenient for middle class apologists for classroom anarchy to suggest that it would be some kind of class oppression to educate the working class instead of seeking to understand their pain and encourage their dissent. Meanwhile those of us who actually care about kids from disadvantaged backgrounds watch helplessly as the class system is enforced from above by patronising liberals and from below by their peers and parents.


  10. “”From this it follows that rules have to be applied consistently and not on an anarchic basis.”

    Is accepting valid excuses and external reasons as mitigating circumstances not consistent?”

    Yes, of course it is.
    I was not suggesting subsuming all rational thought to an ideal of consistency, just that all (teachers) in a school need to subscribe to and operate from the same starting point – not something one can always take for granted.


  11. Anecdotes aren’t hard to find.

    Since returning to the UK I’ve had the opportunity to witness, at first hand, student behaviour in schools in several regions of the UK and it is clear to me that everything Andrew says about the teaching scene is valid. It is hell out there.It really is hell.

    Any reader who doubts this should try to make contact with any school ancillary staff – cleaners and caretakers – or visitors called in to deliver to the school, or to carry out maintenance. Everbody knows, except usually Heads and The Management Team.

    I know a deputy headmistress who was very popular and effective with staff and students alike but even she after around twenty-five years could not keep her charges in line on a school trip. When the driver stopped to warn the students to sit down – safety regulations – they sprayed soft drink and food all over the bus. When they were taken off the bus they dis the same to the outside.

    The DHM has taken early retirement, though not by reason of this incident alone. The stress and strain of finding cover for absent teachers and with having to counsel kids and calm parents down takes a toll and there’s little sense in continuing with a thankless task when you can escape to enjoy the rest of your life.

    There is a crisis in education. Pupils are running out of control much of the time and teachers very often fail to back eaach other up – “I’m getting on great; “you’re managing”; “he’s failing”.

    Oddly enough though when students are sitting for external examinations there’s never any trouble – they even give up their GSMs without a bleat like little lambs.



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