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I Have a Bad Relationship with the Kids

March 16, 2008

It is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved.

Machiavelli (1532)

I have a bad relationship with my students. Well not all of them. In fact I could come up with many examples of the exact opposite (some examples of kids liking me have even appeared on certain teacher rating websites). However, I have been informed, implicitly or explicitly, more than once in my career that I have a bad relationship with certain classes. These classes have always had the following characteristics:

  • A history of poor academic performance (they are always year 9 or older, usually year 11)
  • No expectation of listening.
  • No expectation of working.
  • No respect for authority.

Typically such a class will have arrived at their first lesson expecting to sit wherever they like and continue their conversations from break/lunchtime/before school. They will have become annoyed that I have planned where they can sit (usually this is so I can learn their names, sometimes it is to spread them evenly across the classroom). Further irritation will be caused as it emerges that I expect them to:

  • Put away everything they are not meant to have in class. (Food, phones etc.)
  • Stay in their seats.
  • Stop talking when I am addressing the class.
  • Listen.
  • Work.

These expectations are seen as unreasonable and hostility will manifest itself within the first week. Usually a student will make a big performance of defying me or flat out verbally abuse me. I will then enforce the school rules (I can’t emphasise this enough, my actions will never exceed what all teachers are officially meant to be doing anyway, and often practicalities mean that my actions fall a lot short of that.) Then the battle begins. Because of the lack of support in schools I can’t deny the fact that some of my expectations have to be lowered. My minimum demand for being in front of a class is that they will be quiet during a short period of explanation and that those who want to work will be able to. Anything less than that is a waste of everybody’s time and I can’t bring myself to allow anything less. For students who still have more than a year of schooling to go I will fight for my full set of expectations. (If you want to know how unpleasant the resulting battle can be then I’ll refer you to the entries I’ve written about “Terroring” and “The Fuck Off Factor”).

Often management get involved. Normally this is at my request, occasionally a student will initiate this in the hope that somebody senior will tell me: “kids like this can’t be expected to behave or learn. Let them rule”. Anything that causes work for somebody above counts as the main source of truth and so it will soon be fact: “Mr Old has a bad relationship with the kids”. A variety of strategies from above then follow.

Support me: Management insist the kids follow the rules and exclude where necessary. I like this strategy, it seems to work.

Patronise me: Tell me I need to develop discipline strategies. Send somebody in to help me. This is one of the most entertaining strategies. Whoever is sent in, particularly if it is somebody from outside the school, sees that the problem is based on the kids’ low expectations and has to report back to management that this is the case. My own favourite experience of this was when a “behaviour consultant” was sent in to observe me, I insisted that he visit my lessons at random with no advanced notification, and after two brief visits told me I was doing everything right unlike everyone else he had observed and went off to ask to help other teachers instead. Nothing about this whole episode was ever mentioned again by anyone concerned. Often the intervention is more like what I describe in this blog entry.

Tell me to stop teaching: Often this is done by a middle-man rather than directly. Simply put it goes something like this: “Look I know these kids, none of them are going to get their target grades. It’s not worth trying. Just give them old exam papers to practice for the next few months”. I never go along with this sort of suggestion and I never will.

None of this endears me to anyone much but usually something gets done. The key phrase, the one that tells you that you are dealing with an Appeaser rather than a Teacher is: “Teaching/discipline is about relationships”. I’m not advocating poor relationships with students, but all relationships are voluntary. If teaching, learning and a decent standard of behaviour are voluntary in a school then hardly anything can be achieved unless you have the most eager and well motivated students imaginable (and I never do). It is a hundred times better if your class have high expectations and a poor relationship with you than to have a good relationship and low expectations. This is undeniable if you believe that the role of a teacher is to educate the children rather than to make friends with them. You can have a good relationship with the kids once they are behaving and learning, but not the other way round. The most appeasement can ever achieve is a short-term fix that extracts a price from all those who don’t appease.

Before I finish I have one more thing to say. Every class I have ever been identified as having a “poor relationship” with has over-achieved. Targets were met or exceeded far more than in similar classes. In some cases several students hit targets in classes where “none of them are going to get their target grades”. In one particularly tough year group almost three times as many students hit their targets in my classes than all the other classes combined. This is not a shock or a surprise. You do not get kids to achieve in tough schools by being their friend. “You are the adult and they are the children. They are there to do what you say” is the message that needs to be drummed into every trainee before they even enter the classroom.

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3 comments

  1. The things you are going through are exactly the things I am worried about my daughter with who is in college and following a teaching degree , it worries me that teachers have so little form of control to excercise today, I am fairly old but remember my time as a student and can remember getting whacked on the knuckles for messing about and not paying attention and believe it or not my knuckles are fine 50 years later

    steve


  2. This is exactly what I am experiencing, this didn’t seem such a problem in my last school which was more challenging. Now I am at a ‘good school’ and teaching sixth form the students have taken a disliking to me, even the supposed ‘good kids’. Like you, I expect them to behave and work- I also make sure I always mark their assessments promptly, prepare lessons efficiently, go out of my way to prepare resources and even write model essays for them. But still they refer to me as witch, whore, bitch etc etc. I know because I hear this from other teachers and students. i find this very strange as I had the same expectations with KS3 and KS4 students last year, however I wasn’t faced with such resentment. I think sometimes you start to question yourself, this is why I like your blog- it makes so much sense.


  3. […] me. Nothing new, pretty much the sort of thing I was writing about years ago (for instance here and here), although that in itself is a sign there has been no Govian revolution in schools. I’ve […]



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