AmmunitionJanuary 26, 2008
This is another one for the “if you have never taught in a bad school you might think this is trivial” file. The problem I’m about to go over probably happens in all schools, what makes it significant is entirely the scale of it in my day-to-day teaching life.
The problem is this: Kids throw things at each other.
Now this is a problem because it is constant, not because every child does it but because a significant number of students do it, and a small minority do it continually. You can punish when you see it, but for some students if they have something to throw they will wait until the teacher looks away and then throw at every opportunity. (I mean that literally, so potentially every two minutes for an entire day). Looking at it from the point of view of another student, just imagine what it is like to be in a classroom where at any moment you can have something thrown at you.
Some teachers set a detention whenever they see it happen. In a bad school the worst offenders are in the detention immune category and will not be deterred. You have little choice but to accept the inclination to throw as an inevitable fact of life, or teach in a way where you never look at a book or an individual but constantly survey the whole class.
So what do we do about the problem?
Well, it comes down to controlling the ammunition. Students collect a variety of things to throw:
- Plant-life. This is among the worst, berries, twigs and general detritus. Students are too lazy to bend down so they won’t usually collect stones, except to throw immediately, but they will strip hedges and trees of potential projectiles. All you can do is watch out for students stood next to hedges and trees and force them to drop their ammunition before they get to the classroom.
- Stationery and equipment. Fortunately in a tough school no student ever brings in their own stationery so teachers can control this one. Teachers must be careful never to lend out certain items except under close supervision. Staplers can be stripped of staples, glue-sticks can have their glue picked out, erasers can be thrown as a whole or broken to pieces first. Pencils with erasers on the end should be avoided, as should pens with lids or smaller parts. Activities that involve using small objects are avoided (so very few experiments in science are allowed, and no dice or coin-throwing in maths). Rulers, protractors, compasses and calculators must be as robust as possible. Colouring pencils and pens are never lent out (all shading is to be done in pencil).
- Paper. This is a very common one as it is in no short supply in schools. There has to be a very firm set of rules regarding it. Punishments must be given for tearing paper out of books or for passing notes. Worksheets must be kept to a minimum and always have names written on them as soon as they are handed out. Paper is often very unsatisfactory as ammunition, you need quite a lot of it to create a paper ball big enough to be noticed. The usual tactic to compensate for this is to chew it and fire it through a pen that has been adapted for the purpose. (The removed parts of the pen can then be used for throwing too).
- Food and sweets. In classrooms food and sweets have to be banned. Outside, it must be tightly regulated. It is entirely unremarkable to see students buy a cake from the school canteen and go into the playground and without taking one bite break off pieces and throw them until there is no cake left. Problems with gulls and rats are quite common in school playgrounds.
- Classroom Items. Teachers have to make their classrooms as bare as possible. No spare sheets of paper left out, no interesting tactile objects, no equipment left out in a tray. Drawing pins cannot be used for display work and blu-tack can only be used on posters high up on the walls. No classroom feature, such as blinds or heaters can have breakable parts.
All this seems like it might be overkill. I wish it was. The simple fact is there are kids in schools for whom this behaviour is habit. You know you have established your authority in the school when you can turn your back on kids without being hit with a missile.
Until you are truly feared then, student or staff, you can expect to be a target. If you’re lucky it will be a ball of paper or a berry. If you are unlucky it will be a calculator or a rock.