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A Few More Words About Appeasement

March 23, 2008

… treat the worst kid in the class like your favourite student. The nice kids are bright enough to not mind as they know you’re taking the piss and the other naughties think if she’s that nice to dominic who’s worse than me she’ll be really nice to me assuming im half ok. its odd but seems to work.[sic]

Poster on the TES website explaining their preferred behaviour management strategy.

I talked before about “The Appeasers”, teachers whose survival strategy is to win over the worst kids. Last time I characterised their personality types, here I am going to look at the effect they have on schools and students.

The Appeasers are the living embodiment of the idea that “discipline is about relationships”. For those students who work well and want to learn then there is no need for The Appeaser to build a good relationship. Abigail will come into the classroom first sit down and work. She will only talk if she is left waiting, and even then she is likely to talk respectfully and politely to a member of staff rather than her peers. She is too easy for anyone to need to win her over. She is of no concern to The Appeaser. Other students, like Reece, come in late demanding attention and he will not be satisfied until he gets it. Often that attention is automatic from the other students; they know they will risk violence, theft or being ostracised if they don’t let Reece have his time in the spotlight. The only real challenge is the teacher. It is at this point that The Appeaser comes into his or her own:

“Lovely to see you, Reece. Is that a new hat? How was your weekend? Where would you like to sit. Here’s your book and a pencil. You’ve sat down without being asked. Well done that’s excellent behaviour. Here have a merit.”

Abigail will sit in silence with her hand up waiting for help with the work during the five minutes it takes to get Reece started with complements being paid to him all the time. For the early part of Reece’s time at secondary school this will have a positive effect on behaviour management in his classes. Reece is more likely to cooperate for the teacher who appears to admire him as much as he admires himself. He may even disrupt Abigail’s learning less than he would if he was still fighting to get that attention.

Of course, the problems that have been created by this temporary fix are numerous:

  1. The whole class has been taught that Reece is more important than Abigail. They will, over time, seek to follow his model rather than hers. By year ten there are very few Abigails left and many, many Reeces. The Appeasers have no chance to appease an army of Reeces. This is why Appeasers always seem to teach young children, very small classes or withdraw to positions in senior management. It is also why they often seem to believe that all problems in education could be solved by smaller class sizes.
  2. The situation is unhealthy and repellant. Justice has not been done. Abigail will have been punished for being good. Reece will have been rewarded for being bad. Both will have internalised that message. Reece loves himself even more. Abigail has had her self-esteem lowered. Tough schools always have lot of evil children with high self-esteem and lovely children who hate themselves. Ironically, there is still a lot of talk about raising the self-esteem of students with behaviour problems. Selfishness is not seen as a behaviour problem, it is seen as a route to good behaviour.
  3. The system and procedures of the school have been thrown out. It’s bad enough ethically that Reece has been rewarded rather than punished and Abigail punished rather than rewarded, but it is also in violation of the rules of the school. Whenever the rules are ignored they become weaker.
  4. Reece will expect the same treatment from every teacher. Any teacher who does not behave in the same way must be picking on him. If they punish him according to the school rules it is particularly cruel and unfair, and his mother, who is in no small way an Appeaser herself, will be phoning in to complain. He will expect to be able to do what he likes, whenever he likes, with only positive encouragement from the teachers who are already treating him like he’s the boss as a constraint on his behaviour. By the time Reece is in year 9 new teachers to the school won’t have a chance with him.
  5. Morale among staff suffers as they become split between The Appeasers and The Educators. An Educator troubled by Reece’s behaviour will be told by an Appeaser “he’s always fine for me”. Educators who try to enforce discipline will have their time wasted, and or even be victimised, by Appeasers in management. Questions will be asked such as “Why do you give so many detentions?” and “Have you tried asking Reece why he walks out of your lesson?” Teachers will get judged by the amount of punishments they issue. Support won’t be given with serious behaviour problems because staff must have brought them on themselves by not appeasing. Worst of all, because appeasement doesn’t work in the most difficult situations Appeasers will always try to dump the worst children on other members of staff and then blame them when there are problems.

A culture of appeasement with the kids is the flip-side to a culture of blame among the staff. Appeasers believe they have cracked the behaviour problem in the school. According to their perspective it is only those old fashioned and inexperienced teachers who believe that children shouldn’t be rewarded for bad behaviour who have problems with behaviour. Only when the last staff member has accepted the message that the bad kids rule the school will there be peace and harmony.

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24 comments

  1. The problem – so far as I can see – is that teachers are being trained to use appeasement as a coping strategy.

    What else do you call so-called behaviour management initiatives which mean that kids who disrupt are sent on canoeing lessons and football training courses?

    The argument is that the disruptive kids have to behave in order to get the treats – but, as the other kids at my school point out, they have to behave badly first, in order to get into the groups considered for the treats.

    As for what oldandrew describes above – it’s horribly familiar. We’re taught to ‘catch kids being good’. I try to make a point of praising the good kids and I do not award merit stickers to badly behaved kids just for behaving as they should, but I find myself being forced to fill up ‘target sheets’ for badly behaved pupils which expect me to tick that they’ve been either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, just for targets that include: “Do not call out in class. Bring a pencil. Do as the teacher says.”


  2. The rougher the school, the more Reeces there are and the more Appeasers. The rest of the staff leave asap for somewhere the tail isn’t wagging the dog.


  3. “The argument is that the disruptive kids have to behave in order to get the treats – but, as the other kids at my school point out, they have to behave badly first, in order to get into the groups considered for the treats.”

    That is the quandary involved with giving bad students awards for good behaviour.

    Some of my students get extra help because of a family problem, e.g. a bereavement. Hopefully no-one in my class seeks to suffer bereavement for this extra help.


  4. I don’t doubt that there are such teachers, that reward (whether it be with genuine rewards or merely with attention) ONLY the bad students, but seeking to build a relationship with the difficult pupils does not necessitate that trade-off, therefore essentially this ‘appeaser’ is a straw man.

    What is your proposed alternative? That we simply send the pupil out? Exclude them? Don’t try to teach them? Why appease when you can surrender?


  5. My alternative to appeasing badly behaved students is to punish them. If that is not enough to restore order then they do need to be removed so learning can take place.

    No doubt you will complain that these poor little sprites are being unfairly treated when all they wanted to do was stop other children learning, but what’s the point of being a teacher if you aren’t on the side of those who want to learn? A teacher who favours the kids who don’t want learning to take place is as much use as a butcher who prefers to serve vegetarians.


  6. A butcher who only serves the customer s/he already has deserves to go out of business!


  7. Really? How ruthlessly capitalist of you.


  8. I know, but you began the shop comparison. Really I think the butcher should be taken into common ownership, but that wouldn’t really make the point!


  9. No, I disagree so strongly with your post. A teacher who is prepared and planned and knows their class will have a non agressive strategy for engaging Reece but they are not operating in a vacuum they will also have a strategy for engaging and stretching abigail as well. When abigail was a reece’s stage of social development I am sure she had lots of positive praise from her supportive parents. Reece, I would hazard a guess did not. What would you do? Go all combative, come down hard on him every lesson? What’s the ultimate conclusion – I would hazard a guess that its lots of entertainment for the class and Reece’s eventual total disengagement. I think personalised learning should apply to behaviour targets also Reece is clearly not capable of the same standards of behaviour as Abigail but perhaps with encouragement he wil make progression. Perhaps you are confusing caring with appeasement…..


  10. I’m sorry but when you assume that the quiet ones have “supportive parents” and don’t deserve your attention, and save it for the ones who make it unpleasant for others that is not caring. That is the exact opposite of caring. That is allowing injustice to take place, and over time it encourages injustice to take place.

    Just to go through some of your most absurd phrases and suggestions: (I an half wondering if your post is a wind up):

    A teacher who is prepared and planned: The obvious claim that appeasers are somehow better prepared than those teachers who simply plan to treat the whole class as equally worthy of attention. It’s bollocks. You can plan and prepare all you like, it is still an injustice to appease.

    non agressive strategy for engaging Reece: I am suggesting that if Reece chooses not to be engaged then that is his choice. It is not the responsibility of the teacher to stop teaching and start entertaining those who don’t want to learn. It is not “aggressive” to expect Reece to respect the rights of others. (Although I do wonder why you are more worried about being aggressive than being unjust. Isn’t that almost a definition of “weak”?)

    they will also have a strategy for engaging and stretching abigail as well: I suggest you visit a few appeaser classrooms and see that is exactly what doesn’t happen. Abigail will never be stretched and engaged while Reece is at liberty.

    When Abigail was a Reece’s stage of social development: Abigail was never at Reece’s stage of social development. Reece has high self-esteem, Abigail has low self-esteem. That’s why they both think he is more important than her. Unrealistically high self-esteem is not a stage people go through as they develop it is a moral and psychological failing, best treated by making it entirely clear that Reece is not more important than Abigail.

    What would you do? Go all combative, come down hard on him every lesson?: I would enforce the rules of the school consistently and justly. If having to treat other people as equally deserving of attention as himself will “disengage” Reece then so be it. That is the price the selfish always pay, better that they learn to pay it young when they still might have a chance of changing.

    personalised learning: I’m sorry but slogans don’t actually win over people capable of reading whole books.

    behaviour targets: Behaviour is not something you “target” it is something you do. I’m not asking him to give up smoking or to love his neighbour as himself. I am asking him to allow others to do their work uninterrupted. That’s not a target, it is his choice and if he chooses not to do it then he should accept the consequences.

    Reece is clearly not capable of the same standards of behaviour: Dogs can be trained to be capable of the standard of behaviour required. How can a boy, who in some cultures would be considered a man, who has been in full-time education for the best part of a decade, not be capable of being quiet when asked? Is he a lunatic? Does he have a nervous tic that causes his vocal chords to move uncontrollably? Is he under hypnosis? Or is it not simply the time for Reece to just shut up?


  11. You occasionally seem to forget that you have invented the concept of the ‘appeaser classroom’ and therefore cannot trot it out as if it were a universally-acknowledged concept. An ‘appeaser classroom’ may not try to engage ‘Abigail’ but an ‘appeaser classroom’ may not exist. Somewhere behind your shower of straw men there may be a classroom where ‘Reece’ is challenged as part of a long-term and pragmatic strategy rather via ‘hang-the-consequences’ dogma, and ‘Abigail’ is engaged and stretched.


  12. I didn’t invent the concept, I’ve watched it in action. If you think the things I describe might don’t actually exist then I’m not sure why you’d read the blog.

    That said, the quote from that poster on TES who recommends treating the worst child as your favourite and Sheridan’s delusions about Reece’s and Abigail’s parents (did I forget to mention they were twins?) should indicate that I haven’t just imagined the appeasers.

    (Unless you think that the TES poster and Sheridan are both just me writing under a pseudonym.)


  13. Well the concept is one you’ve constructed based on what you’ve observed AND your interpretation of what you’ve observed. I don’t mean to suggest you’ve dreamt it up, merely that you can’t just swat away the assertion that the people you’ve observed might be doing something less awful than appeasing merely by stating ‘they can’t be because they’re appeasers’.

    I don’t discount the possibility that the dystopic teacher you suggest here actually exists, but your assertions elsewhere that anyone who employs strategies other than your preferred one is an ‘appeaser’ rather serves to undermine the theory.


  14. My preferred “strategy” is not appeasing.

    It seems quite reasonable (in fact unavoidable) to consider somebody who refuses to incorporate that into their actions as “an appeaser”.


  15. And there I fear we must abandon all hope of a rational discussion!


  16. I fear you abandoned that hope a long time ago.

    No offence.


  17. Only a very little taken. I’ve quite enjoyed reading your polemic (though it is mostly the most unmitigated nonsense – no offence) but I would recommend tightening up your defence for one or two of these concepts before the book comes out!


  18. The other problem with appeasers are that they’re selfish. They only think of themsleves, not other teachers, not the class as a whole, and in the long run not the pupils who you have chosen to appease. Appeasers, like this Duncan chap,really only think “what makes my life eassiest” and then try to justify it. We’d all find it so much easier to be in a classroom if we chatted to the worst behaved, became close friends who would discuss their underage drinking and sexploits etc, let them phone out to buy their drugs, put up with their general unpleasant behaviour, language, minor acts of terrorism just so we could get the occasional sentence on a piece of paper to pretend they’ve done some work, so we can say in the staff room ” he/she never gives me any trouble” and so on. however we’re not in the classroom to have an easy time, we’re there to teach, and teach the whole class. If we appease then we let down our colleagues and betray the trust we have as educators to educate. An appeaser is a short termist(like the bankers who have caused the credit crunch) only looking to tommorrow and trying to make it through the day. They don’t look at the long term harm they are causing. Over 5 years how many hours of teaching have been stolen, by the scum and their appeasers, off the quiet studious children.

    fat-tony


  19. Excuse me “Fat-Tony” – I had decided not to post on here again, but as you’ve launched a personal attack I shall have to respond. Please explain to me why you describe me as an ‘appeaser’?

    Okay, you’ve bought into this concept, but I strongly resent you applying it to me.

    If we invent another concept (in the OldAndrew manner) – the teacher who uses intelligent discretion as part of a discipline strategy – then the last thing you can accuse it of being is short-term. How many hours of teaching are spent ‘disciplining’ (and I use the term loosely) the children you delightfully describe as ‘the scum’? Very many indeed. If you can develop strategies by which YOU don’t disrupt the learning of others by having to constantly bellow at anti-school pupils, you help the learning of everybody. That does require trying to understand why students behave the way they do. That does require involving others outside the classroom (counsellors, mentors, mental health professionals, etc. rather than assuming you are somehow omniscient) and it does not involve appeasement.

    I await some pithy, meaningless tautology.


  20. You appear to be living in a different universe to me.

    Teachers don’t spend much time disciplining, they spend their time dealing with the consequences of indiscipline. As for involving “counsellors, mentors, mental health professionals”, the problem is these people do no good at all. All they do is make “helpful” suggestions about how if you stop enforcing the rules and generally appease the child then he might like you enough not to stop you teaching.


  21. The label oldandrew has given to a certain type of teacher as the appeaser ( I assume because appeasement is their mode of operation) is an accurate portrayal of one of the biggest problems caused by teachers in a school. I accused you of being an appeaser because:
    a) You defend the behaviour, or try to repackage it.
    b) You have failed to suggest any alternative strategies that are not those of the appeaser.

    It is clear from your comments that you do not teach in a secondary school but in either an FE college or a PRU. Now in both of those you may not have appeasers. However this is about teachers in secondary education where the appeaser exists and causes all the problems mentioned by oldandrew.

    You are doing exactly what I suggested an appeaser would do. You are trying to justify a lazy, short-sighted, and negligent classroom strategy, rather than argue for a solution that will benefit the majority.

    I also notice you object to the word “scum” to describe someone who steals the education of others. I can think of no more fitting a word for someone who steals hopes, aspirations and dreams; and if you’re a teacher who appeases you are complicit in this theft.


  22. Well I actually agree with you for once (oldandrew) – when I said I was using the word ‘disciplining’ loosely, I did mean something more like your description: dealing with the consequences of indiscipline. I actually think the sort of considered, relfective, strategic approach to discpline that I would promote (that does, I’m afraid, involve some discretionary powers on the part of individual teachers, though it does not involve – and I would strongly criticise – undermining colleagues) does reacquire a lot of that time. I accept that there are more draconian measures that are not too time-consuming – immediate exclusions of one for or another – but often ‘disciplinarian’ teachers spend an awful lot of their lessons being disciplinarian rather than teaching.

    Fat-Tony, you are correct I teach in FE, and I’ve mentioned in comments elsewhere that different challenges and solutions are posed (students are in my lessons apparently voluntarily – for now – and the great pressure from managers, etc. is to keep them there even if it’s against their will!) But I am not justifying a classroom strategy that fits the description you give. I’m suggesting that your interpretation of a particular classroom strategy may be wrong. I’ve no doubt there are lazy, short-sighed and negligent staff out there, but I suspect it doesn’t always take the form you and ‘oldandrew’ suggest; I suspect much of what you label as such isn’t; and I suspect you and ‘oldandrew’ are not quite the antithesis of such practice that you profess to be.

    I do object to the word scum. Very strongly. There are selfish pupils, there are idiotic pupils, there are violent pupils, there are enormously disruptive pupils. I think there is a tiny minority – almost non-existent – who wilfully ‘steals hopes, aspirations and dreams’. I also think there is a tiny minority who don’t have some hopes, aspirations and dreams of their own that you ‘steal’ by labelling them as ‘scum’. Frankly you will never be able to teach those pupils until you see them as flawed human beings (in that way very like the pupils you like, and also very like yourself) rather than as inanimate refuse. Okay, I get it, you don’t want to teach them. But thankfully it is not your job to decide who is unteachable.


  23. >I also think there is a tiny minority who don’t have some >hopes, aspirations and dreams of their own that you ’steal’ by >labelling them as ’scum’.

    How can you steal something from someone who doesn’t have it?

    Am also going to stop discussing on this post as we have wildly different world views and are never going to agree. If you haven’t seen the classroom startegy in FE then fair enough, and even if it did the structure of FE means it would be less likely to impact on you.

    I will continue to make a difference to the vast majority of pupils who I teach. I will continue to protect the rights of the innocent in my class who wish to learn.

    As you only educate those over the age of compulsory education you probably don’t feel the need, and the innoccent by the time of 6th form hopefully will stay in school, as long as their experience hasn’t been runined by those you seem to want to defend.


  24. I worry for your students as you seem incapable of reading a sentence, understanding anything or spelling basic words (on another thread).

    My students all get excellent results – many of them having been failed by the schooling system, most because of labelling by ignorant people like you rather than disruption from their peers.

    See ya!



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