Archive for September, 2008

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Holiday In Hell: Part 2

September 25, 2008

Continuing the account of a school trip.

You will need to read this entry first.

I awoke to find the boys from Anna Brown’s form all over their corridor, bags strewn across the floor. I told them that they, and their bags, should be in their rooms, unless they were showering, or alternatively they could sit in the lounge. It appeared that they were at their most energetic and I repeatedly had to make sure they were not wrestling in the lounge, or turning the lights off and playing in the dark. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t been for Jon. First, he wouldn’t leave the corridor at all, then he re-emerged into the corridor in his boxer shorts dancing and singing “Sex Bomb”. Soon he was displaying his packet of chewing gum (prohibited by the residential centre’s rules) blatantly while stood right next to me. My requests for him to hand over the gum resulted in him running at breakneck speed down the corridor. I soon discovered that there was an unlocked kitchen at the near end of the corridor when I had to remove Jon from it. Then he joined the other boys in the lounge and realised that if he held the light switch down then I couldn’t switch the light back on. It was a relief when he decided that if I wouldn’t allow fourteen boys to wrestle in a dark room it was no fun and ran out towards the dining room, but by this point some of the other boys from Anna’s form were beginning to kick off.

I asked two boys who were on the verge of fighting with each other to follow me and went down to the dining room. Jenny Goodyear was in the kitchen and I asked if she could keep an eye on the two boys. She said she was too busy cooking and it was my responsibility so I should put them at the end of the corridor. I did this, only to find Jon there running his fingers across the fire alarm. I decided that I couldn’t hope to deal with Jon and the other boys at the same time. I insisted Jenny come out of the kitchen to speak to me, I told her that there was no way I could deal with Jon and the other thirteen at the same time. She said I’d have to and I pointed out that I had already made it clear that Jon was a health and safety risk and as she hadn’t acted at the time then would have to deal with it now. She told me I couldn’t speak to her like that and that Jon was fine. Then she complained that it was in front of the kids (despite the fact there was nobody in the empty dining room and I had asked her to come out of the kitchen for precisely this reason). I told her that the very first thing I’d do when I got back to school was contact my union rep. about how she’d ignored my repeated warnings about health and safety. She then told me she’d take Jon but she’d have to cancel breakfast. Then she declared that she’d have all the boys and stormed down the corridor to the boys’ dormitories and announced to them, “You all have to come with me because apparently you are wild and out of control.” I said that she only needed to take Jon but in front of the students she refused, leaving me alone in the boys’ corridors.

I took the time alone to recover from the shock of this behaviour on her part. A couple of boys (one from my form, one from Anna’s) came and chatted to me until other boys were sent to tell them to return. A brief walk round gave Jenny the chance to ask me to write a list of students and comments to go on their certificates. She didn’t explain what certificates so I didn’t ask and just did my best sat back in the boys’ corridor. Anna was organising dodgeball in the hall and I popped in to talk to some of my form. I lost my enthusiasm for being there when I caught Jon cheating and Anna ignored me when I pointed it out.

After helping with a number of tasks set by Jenny I joined the students in the dining room and sat alone at the staff table chatting to the students until Jenny came in to declare that nobody was allowed to talk across the room and to tell me to go and help Clark load the van. I complied. I returned and ate with the other staff (breakfast wasn’t cancelled). Jenny had now gained enthusiasm for setting me tasks. Unfortunately my willingness to do them seemed to encourage her to set more tasks – now with the apparent aim of forcing me to assert my authority (particularly over Jon) and then watching closely as if to pick fault. First I had to help with the next round of the “people at my table” quiz. Then I was shocked to hear it announced that all students were to join me in the hall for games. Fortunately Clark decided to join me and did a far better job of organising four-aside football than I could have done. We even managed to stop Jon climbing up the walls in the hall without having to ask more than four or five times. Eventually Jenny came and got Clark to leave and then watched me, but with the game in full swing there was unlikely to be a problem. Having watched for a bit she called the students back to the dining room to sort out last minute packing. Jon began climbing the wall in the dining hall next to Anna. She ignored it.

I was then given the task of helping students pack their bags in the hall with anything they’d bought while orienteering yesterday. This task was made more difficult by Jon trying to join us through the other door despite having nothing to put in his bag. Then Jenny began sending students through the hall with boxes to put next to the front door of the residential centre. The second student she sent was Jon, who on discovering the large collection of “circus toys” left by the youth workers near the door began playing with them with little regard to safety. Then a large crowd of students came through into the hallway leaving it overcrowded and making it hard to stop Jon’s latest antics. I asked what was going on and the students told me that Jenny had sent them through to stand by the door. I went to her and asked what was going on and she told me she was packing and told me off for failing to keep students out of the hall, I didn’t believe that over a dozen students had spontaneously decided to try and line up at the front door and tell me that she’d instructed it, but I felt there was little point arguing about it. I sent them back out. I’d got most of the crowd out, but Jon started claiming that Jenny had told him he should be at the door. I told him he needed to go back and he couldn’t stand near the door (even though I suspected he was correct about Jenny’s instructions there was no way I was prepared to supervise him in a room full of circus toys while also holding back a crowd). At this point he pushed me out of the way (more due to my shock at being attacked in this way than due to his physical strength).

Apalled by the assault, I left the hall through the crowd, finding Anna in the dining room. I asked her to take Jon away immediately as I’d been assaulted. She said, “I’m doing this, you have to sort it.” I couldn’t believe that anybody could take that attitude about a member of their own tutor group and told her: “You don’t tell a teacher who has just been assaulted that they have to sort it themselves,” and left for the calm of the boys’ corridors, which were now cleared and being cleaned, to recover from what was by this point quite an extreme level of stress. After a few minutes a crowd of boys appeared at the door of the connecting corridor. “Miss Goodyear sent us to stay here,” they told me. Fortunately it was mainly boys from my own tutor group and they quickly went back when I told them the rooms were being cleaned. However, I did have to stop to take two sponge balls away from students who were playing with them, unsupervised, at the top of a steep set of stairs.

The cleaner saw I was less than happy and encouraged me to sit in the lounge. I did so, only to see Jon, in the corridor, grabbing at my bags and possessions, presumably because of the two sponge balls beneath them. I sent him away and the cleaner locked the door of the corridor to keep him from rejoining us. Jon appeared to be utterly unsupervised at this point and free to seek me out despite what had happened.

Eventually I heard that it was far quieter outside and I left and was able to join my tutor group in the mini bus. Overall I had actually had a positive time with my tutor group and even most of Anna’s.

However I felt that I had been repeatedly undermined by having my warnings about Jon – based on my own direct observation and professional judgement – ignored and by the way I had been spoken to, particularly in front of my tutor group. I also felt I’d been undermined by being put into a situation where the only meaningful consequence for poor behaviour was one that I couldn’t deliver and where my requests for others to deliver it were ignored.

I felt that students had been repeatedly endangered by being left with Jon, as had Jon himself, and by being in a situation where it was not possible to adequately supervise them. During large parts of Friday morning it appeared that Jon was free to run around doing whatever he liked. There seemed to be no constraint on where he could go unsupervised in the building and even potentially dangerous behaviour was being ignored. I am also concerned about the hygiene implications of asking students to remove litter from bins of dog mess and cleaning up vomit unsupervised. There had been no guidance on health and safety given to staff. Had I known how the two days were to be run and how little control I’d have over the environment my tutor group were in I would never have agreed to attend.

I felt that the way Jenny had treated me personally was not just unprofessional but had become a form of bullying. The use of the technique of announcing what I was going to be doing in front of the students without telling me first placed me in a situation where I had to choose between putting myself in further stressful situations or arguing with another teacher in front of the students. In particular the repeated efforts to get me to supervise Jon after I had explicitly told her that I considered him to be a danger to himself and others seemed designed to cause me ever increasing amounts of stress. Jenny was willing to send Jon to “help” me with washing up but both she and Anna appeared unwilling for the most part to have Jon in the kitchen with them and used the fact that the were carrying out tasks in or near the kitchen as a reason Jon should be supervised by me rather than them.

I felt that I’d been unsupported even when going through the stress of having been assaulted. The cleaner who had locked the door of the corridor to the dormitories to keep Jon out while I composed myself after the assault had told me that I looked physically ill. She saw me in distress and sat me down, locked the connecting door and checked to see if I was okay. My teaching colleagues on the other hand had ignored my distress, and Jenny had even attempted to send all the boys to me while I was in that state. Only Clark asked me at any point during the trip if I was okay. I am still feeling the physical effects of this level of stress.

It’s probably not a shock to discover that nothing much happened as a result of all this. Jon had already got himself (temporarily) excluded for beating up another child in front of a teacher and a room full of children so there was no point trying to get him excluded for his assault on me. Jenny and Anna had rushed to the head first to complain about me (God knows what for) and if any action was taken against Jenny I was not told about it. Nor did it stand in the way of their subsequent promotions, although unconfirmed rumours in the school suggested that Jenny’s meteoric success as the school’s chief appeaser of naughty boys, came to an end after a dispute with a member of senior management.

On the other hand, it didn’t seem to do any permanent damage to my relationship with my form, or my ability to manage their behaviour (which was often positively commented on a couple of years later when they were causing trouble for other members of staff).

The incident also served to educate me in the dishonesty of appeasement. Jenny and Anna encouraged and praised Jon, they ignored awful behaviour and gave him lots of attention. At times this seemed to please him, but ultimately it made no difference; they could not contain him which was why they repeatedly dumped him on me. Appeasement simply doesn’t work for very long, it is a strategy used only to survive long enough to blame somebody else for the resulting mess.

A final note: I cannot imagine going on any school trip where I haven’t handpicked the students for their obedience. Otherwise school trips are simply not worth the risk. The following news stories all involve students being killed or maimed in circumstances where students disobeyed teachers:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1456897.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/north_yorkshire/4413357.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/3004667.stm

Please notice where the finger of blame is usually pointed.

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Holiday In Hell: Part 1

September 22, 2008

In my first year at the Metropolitan School I was given a year 7 form group. It was a tradition at the school for new form tutors to take their forms on an overnight stay at the Skylark Residential Centre in the first few weeks of term where there would be a chance for us to get to know each other, and take part in a variety of outdoor activities. There they would be supervised by Jenny Goodyear, a veteran of the school (a former primary school teacher) and Dave Levy the school’s youth worker. We were also to be accompanied by Clark Ferris who was a “mentor” employed by the school to assist the year group. Being new to the school I made the error of agreeing to this, and not taking an early slot at the Centre. By the time my form’s turn to go came around other forms had gone and discovered it wasn’t much fun. As a result less than half of the form signed up to go. It was at this point that I made my second error. I was asked if I minded if my form went at the same time (Thursday to Friday) as Anna Brown’s form who were also lacking willing volunteers and I agreed. Here was the account I presented to the headteacher after I returned from the trip:

On arriving at the Skylark Residential Centre on Thursday morning it was explained to students and staff that there were, unlike at school, very few rules. However the one rule was that students were to follow instructions immediately without arguing for reasons of safety. Furthermore, because of the importance of this any student unable to follow instructions would have to be sent home and also barred from future trips. Staff were introduced to students, with Jenny Goodyear encouraging students to call her and Clark Ferris by their first names. Anna Brown also agreed to be called by her first name, leaving me to be put on the spot as to what I wanted to be called, I opted for “Sir”. Neither the lack of rules nor the use of forenames had been discussed with me beforehand. It was also explained that even though there were two tutor groups on the trip (Anna Brown’s and mine) the purpose of the trip was for students to get to know the others in their form and their form tutor. I took it to be the case, as I had when I agreed to go on this trip, that my priority would be to build on my relationship with the members of my form.

It became clear that there were a number of other aspects of the trip I wasn’t previously aware of. I hadn’t realised that neither Clark Ferris nor Dave Levy (who arrived later) would be there for the whole two days, and so in the boys corridor I was, at times, to be left in charge of all the boys, including those from Anna’s form who I didn’t know. This concerned me. I trusted my own tutor group but there were at least a couple of boys in Anna’s form who seemed less than able to follow instructions and, not being able to drive, I was in no position to carry out the threat to take them home if required, leaving me with responsibility but without power. I found out very early on, as we unpacked, that the boys I didn’t know were quite boisterous in their behaviour, as they began running along their corridor into my forms’ corridor, something that Clark came and warned them about. Fortunately, he was in a position to warn them that if they didn’t comply he could take them home. I did ask Anna if there was anything I needed to know about Jon Scott and another boy from her form who seemed very poor at following instructions. She said they weren’t on the SEN register so there probably wasn’t any real grounds to be concerned about their behaviour.

Another surprise was the schedule. I was given no advance warning of what activities were planned and when. I often only found out what was to happen next when it was announced to the students. This was inconvenient, not least because Connor from my form (previously mentioned here) needed to take medication at regular intervals, but it also meant organisation was entirely centred on Jenny Goodyear rather than on all staff working together as a team. I was also surprised to discover that while I was not in the room students had been told that they were to find out the favourite TV programme and a “family fact” about each person at their table at dinner, for them to be quizzed about later. The fact that I wasn’t in the room when the game was announced did not stop Jenny from quizzing me in front of the students about the people at my table, and my poor performance at this was given as a reason for me to do the washing up in the evening. While I would have been quite happy to do this task it seemed rather odd to put me on the spot in that way in front of the students without warning, but I assumed it was down to an oversight.

As the day wore on I began to realise that Jenny seemed not to trust my judgement or skills. I was repeatedly given advice on minor matters. When we went orienteering after lunch I was repeatedly told what to do and quizzed by Jenny on how I’d done it. When (as instructed) I encouraged students to clean up their litter I was quizzed on whether I’d made sure they went to the right bins. I was told off as some of them had used the bins designated for dogs’ mess, and students were instructed to remove litter from those bins in order to put them in another bin. They had been divided into teams and after I had to tell a student in my form off for leaving his team I informed Jenny that (as instructed) I’d yelled at him only to be told, “I don’t think you did. Your problem is that you don’t yell at them.” I remained calm and polite and was supportive of Jenny when members of my form came to see me to tell me that they felt they weren’t enjoying the orienteering as they felt that she was picking on them because she’d had trouble spelling their team name (“The Four Musketeers”).

As I mentioned, Jon Scott had become a concern: he seemed slow to follow instructions and prone to arguing. After the orienteering had finished, Dave Levy led all of the students, two sixth formers employed as youth workers (Lee and Steven) and me on a lengthy walk. I was to look after those at the end of the line, particularly one boy who was asthmatic. We soon became concerned that Jon was behaving in a dangerous manner. As we followed a path up the hill he kept running and climbing on the steep hillside next to the path in a very reckless manner. Dave asked him to stay with him at the front of the line, however he kept running back and forth. He repeatedly ignored instructions from me and from the two youth workers. Apart from climbing on the hillside he also attempted to climb trees and signs, to rip holly leaves off of trees and menace other students with them (despite my repeated request that he put them down). When one of the youth workers instructed him to walk with Dave he said to them (and in front of me), “I’m not doing that, he’s a batty boy.” I felt strongly that his behaviour was dangerous, particularly to himself, to the extent that he would need to be sent home.

When we arrived back at the centre I began explaining my concerns to Dave and to Anna Brown. Before I’d even finished I was told they’d deal with the issue. I returned to my room to freshen up following the long walk. When I left my room I found Jon had entered my form’s corridor and was spraying an aerosol deodorant on himself. Students had been told that, due to the fire alarms, corridors were the best place to do this. I asked him to return to his corridor as this much spray in the air could be hazardous to health as there were several asthmatics around, and he shouldn’t have been there anyway. He refused and continued to spray even more deodorant in an elaborate display.

I was now even more concerned that Jon’s behaviour was dangerous. I returned to the dining room to explain to Jenny (as team leader) and the other staff my concerns. I repeated what I’d said before, and repeated what Jon had said about Dave. Again I was told it would be dealt with before I’d even finished explaining, leaving me in some doubt as to whether anyone was even listening as I explained about the incident with the aerosol. A little later I discovered that the action taken was to give Jon a further talking to, to get him to apologise to me and to ask my permission before he was allowed to rejoin the other students. This seemed entirely inadequate. However, as I couldn’t be the one to drive Jon home I was unsure as to what I could do to get further action taken. At least something had been done, although during dinner I began to wonder how seriously it was being taken when Jenny made a point of telling one of my tutor group who described Jon as “naughty” that labelling was inappropriate. I also felt that other staff (particularly Jenny) now seemed far less friendly to me, although I realised that perhaps I was less friendly due to feeling stressed and frustrated at how my concerns had been ignored. In particular it seemed a little off when during a further round of the “talking about others at the table”-quiz, now involving the headteacher who had popped in for a short visit, Jenny instructed him that we all wished to be called by our first names despite my previously expressed desire to the contrary. I was grateful when he did not heed that advice. The reprimand she gave me for giving one of the students a 500ml bottle of water as opposed to two smaller bottles of squash – “you’re cleaning it up if she wets herself”- was by this point not even a surprise, although with hindsight it seemed strange to speak to me in this way three hours before the students’ bedtime and in front of the headteacher.

After dinner those who had done poorly at the quiz at lunchtime (i.e. me and several members of my form) were consigned to the kitchen to wash up. I was surprised to discover that as well as those deemed unsuccessful in the quiz we were to be joined by those who had misbehaved, which meant Jon and another boy from Anna’s form. Having been unable to constrain his dangerous behaviour in other environments the kitchen, full of knives and hot water, seemed an entirely inappropriate place for me to have to supervise him further. The moment he entered he grabbed a tea towel and began flicking it at the other students. I immediately expelled him from the kitchen, assuming that this would make it even clearer that I would not be able to maintain a safe environment if he was with me. It did however seem more than a little unjust when I and the other washer uppers (mostly from my form) finished only to discover Jon was already playing with the other students in games organised by the youth workers.

However, there were no further problems that evening. (That said, it did concern me that when one of the girls in my tutor group was sick, Jenny declined to assist, and told the girls to clear it up themselves. Fortunately Anna decided to ignore Jenny’s suggestion to leave them to it). Dave and I even managed to get the boys in their rooms ready to sleep at a good time. Although the youth workers left not much later, Dave was intending to stay in the same corridor as me and the boys meaning their were two adults to supervise any potential night time disturbances. Unfortunately Dave had to leave early in the morning, meaning that from seven o’clock on Friday morning it was just me supervising the fourteen boys (including Jon).

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Guaranteed to Offend Your SENCO

September 20, 2008

I know this has been around for a few years, but I only recently saw it for the first time:

Drug Free Treatment, posted with vodpod

Apologies again to anybody who can’t access videos.

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The Bisected Teacher

September 14, 2008

There are some writers and advisers out there who give genuinely useful advice about classroom management (see this post for some book suggestions). They focus on concrete ideas about routines, classroom organisation, or language. However, I increasingly encounter behaviour “experts” who try to pass on ideas about the character and personality of the teacher. These “experts” paint a fairly consistent portrait of the kind of teacher who experiences poor behaviour:

“Teachers with negative attitudes generate problems for themselves. They wind kids up; they expect trouble (and get it). Their classroom has a negative air. When behaviour problems occur, which they frequently do in this environment, they quickly escalate into serious confrontations because the teacher’s response tends to be aggressive, sarcastic or dismissive.”*

From http://www.eteach.com/DataFiles/CMS/1/files/Behaviour%20Needs%20May08%20Prevention%20-%20expectations.pdf

“Those who adopt the punitive/hostile approach when dealing with pupils tend to see relationships as a waste of valuable time and aren’t concerned about the feelings of the pupils they teach. It’s ironic that these teachers are often the ones who complain most about standards of behaviour in school.”

From http://www.eteach.com/DataFiles/CMS/1/files/Improve_Classroom_Management_with_Consequences_Aug08.pdf

The message is clear and echoed by hundreds of other educational professionals: it is the attitude of the teacher that causes problems. This principle is one that can be extended to suggest that if a teacher is upset by the behaviour they endure then it is their fault:

“A classroom that is managed by emotional responses from the teacher is an unpredictable and often frightening place in which to learn … They are watching for your reactions and testing when emotion will take the place of reason. If you display your ‘emotional buttons’ don’t be surprised when they are pressed.”

From http://www.pivotaleducation.com/behaviour/058.pdf

“If the students see you becoming tense and angry, you are giving them an incentive to misbehave in future. An explosive reaction might be just what they want to get from you!”

Cowley (2001)

There is some truth to the suggestion that, if you are upset, it will diminish your ability to do your job. There is plenty of truth to the suggestion that teachers who are upset are probably having trouble managing behaviour, but, of course, this is to muddle cause and effect**. Children do not behave badly because their teachers are upset; their teachers are upset because they behave badly. Telling teachers not to be upset is simply blaming the victim. This is wrong, not because there is any great benefit to being upset, but because children should not be allowed to upset teachers.

The “human sponge” theory of teaching, in which teachers simply soak up the abuse without complaint has very little to commend it. While rage and frustration is not constructive, a neutral response to the unacceptable helps to make it acceptable. Behaviour would not improve if teachers were inhuman teaching machines, able to stoically accept all abuse without any hurt feelings, because part of behaving well is considering the feelings of others.

Now, the other side of the picture is the teacher whose classes behave well. Inevitably the good teacher isn’t good because of any ability to enforce discipline. It is their attitude to pupils that mark them out:

“[T]eachers who choose to see ‘problem’ pupils as ‘pupils with problems’ and reach out with offers of support, assistance, trust and respect generally have the most success in terms of preventing and dealing with incidents of bad behaviour. Those who see positive relationships as an essential part of teaching can often perform miracles with the most challenging pupils”

From http://www.eteach.com/DataFiles/CMS/1/files/Improve_Classroom_Management_with_Consequences_Aug08.pdf

“The drive to be part of a group, connected to something, valued, appreciated, heaven forbid call it ‘loved’ – is essential to all human beings. We all positively need to be loved … positive relationships are a sure-fire way to get the most from any under-performing pupil and are the foundation of any successful discipline plan.”

From http://www.eteach.com/DataFiles/CMS/1/files/The%20Needs-Focused%20Approach%20to%20Preventing%20Behaviour%20Problems%20June08.pdf

“Do try to make your students feel that you like them, and that you are interested in the things that interest them”

Cowley (2001)

Again there is some truth here. Nobody thinks mutual hatred is the classroom ideal. Those few forms of poor behaviour that are motivated solely by hatred of the teacher may not be directed against a teacher who is well-liked. But again cause and effect have been muddled. Are children really well-behaved in classes because their teacher likes them? Isn’t it more likely that teachers like classes where the children are well behaved?

But there is a more important point here. There is a basic contradiction in these two ideas. The teacher who (at least apparently) is never angered by cruelty, or disruption to learning and the teacher who (at least apparently) cares about their students are unlikely to be one and the same. You cannot be concerned about children and unconcerned about behaviour that harms them. The only teachers who are comfortably numb about bad behaviour are those who don’t care about its consequences. Even the pretence of being emotionally indifferent to poor behaviour spells out clearly that you don’t care about those children who lose out due to poor behaviour. Concern for those who suffer injustice and anger at those who cause the injustice are utterly inseparable. The behaviour “experts” may think that they have identified a virtue and a vice, but actually they have attempted to separate two sides of the same coin. You cannot bisect a teacher into two parts existing in different moral universes; one part wanting children to learn and the other part hating it when they don’t.

One suspects, however, that if the behaviour “experts” didn’t slice teachers in half they couldn’t simultaneously get them to pay for behaviour advice and still blame them when the advice provided doesn’t work.

*You may have noticed that most of these quotations are from one or two individuals. I apologise if this comes across as picking on anybody, but it is, if anything, a compliment to how clearly they write. Or as Midgley (2001) put it when she found herself repeatedly quoting and criticising the same writer: “I do not do this in order to persecute him, but for a reason that is greatly to his credit, namely, because he writes so clearly. Clear expressions of important mistakes are very useful things, making it much easier to move on beyond those mistakes than it is when they are wrapped in confusion”.

**Despite clear warnings from the Philosopher Jack White.

References

Cowley, Sue, Getting The Buggers to Behave, Continuum 2001

Midgley, Mary, Science and Poetry, Routledge, 2001

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Charlene

September 6, 2008

Charlene was at The Metropolitan School long before I was. I met her in my first term here when she was in year 10. She came into my classroom, refused to sit where I asked, swore at me and walked out. I can’t remember what she said exactly as she has done this about fifteen times over the last year. I suppose that isn’t that many times, but as a perpetual internal truant (i.e. she’d be in school but wouldn’t attend lessons) she probably only attended twenty of my lessons in the four terms I was her teacher.

She is one of the first students to have had an incident recorded in the schools’ behaviour database. Most of what follows comes from that source.

In January of year 9 she was excluded for physical assault. Two months later she was excluded for refusal to follow rules. A month later she was excluded for further refusal plus a number of incidents of verbal abuse to both staff and students. The following month (still only in year 9) she was found in possession of drugs.

Unfortunately, all of this in five months of year 9 (plus whatever incidents had occurred before the current behaviour database started) was not enough to get a permanent exclusion and before she’d finished year 9 she’d had another exclusion for aggressive behaviour to another student.

I can only assume that efforts were made to find alternative provision at this point because there is nothing recorded for the first term of year 10. By February, she was back in school and getting excluded for having a frankly ridiculous number of detentions. A month later she was excluded for verbal abuse to staff and defiance. The same happened the following month. Her exclusions for the next two months (April and May if you haven’t been keeping count) were both for violent behaviour. There were no more exclusions in year 10. However, as we have now reached the point where I was teaching her I know it clearly wasn’t because her behaviour had improved.

She started year 11 with an exclusion for verbal abuse and truancy. I’d like to think that was connected to the abuse she threw at me. She thought I was a terrible teacher and loved to tell me that. And I smell too. By this point she was hardly in any lessons. This arrangement seemed to improve her behaviour but she was out again for verbal abuse and threats against members of staff in December and again in January.

At this point the database entries end. This is because within a month or two Charlene was sent on early study leave (a euphemism for being chucked out but told she could come back for exams). Now I cannot be sure about the details of the final incident that got her out. Communication is never good on these matters and everything I heard was second or third hand. What I do know is that one afternoon as I left school I saw a police car outside the school and several members of senior management. The following day it was announced that after an incident involving several members of her family she and one of her siblings were leaving the school. The word amongst the staff was that the incident had involved a fight with another family and knives were used. It had taken two years of incidents but she was out.

So why am I mentioning this now? Well partly the fact that her sibling (the one who was involved in this final incident) is back in school, but my main reason is this: I saw the register for the sixth form resit class for my subject. She’s been let back into the sixth form and is studying my subject.

Some people claim that the reason teenagers act as if their actions have no consequences is because they are young and impetuous. Consider the case of Charlene. She has committed what would be considered to be criminal offences in the adult world. Yet she is seen as a perfectly suitable candidate to learn a subject she has actively resisted learning for several years, in an institution she has continually harmed. It is not hard to see that in our education system the actions of teenagers genuinely don’t have consequences for them, only for those who want to learn and those who want to teach them.

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Another Helpful Video

September 5, 2008

Dan Willingham, the professor of psychology from the University of Virginia (and poor geographer), who created the video in this blog entry has also produced a video on another fad: Brain-based learning.

Again, apologies to those readers who can’t access youtube.

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