What I Didn’t Say During the INSET day on Special Educational NeedsSeptember 10, 2010
To begin our INSET day we were directed to sit in departmental groups and given details of an origami model to make.
“What do you think the learning objective of this activity is?” we were asked.
“To make a paper model.”
“To work effectively as a group.”
“Excellent. What does ‘working effectively as a group’ mean?”
“It means everybody takes a turn and plays a part.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
What I didn’t say: “But that’s ridiculous. Effectiveness is to do with achieving your aims. How many people play a part is entirely different to whether people play that part effectively. The group might be at its most effective if only the most effective people contribute”.
Then we got on with our folding. The SENCO started shouting at the teachers at one of the tables, saying things which seemed to suggest he was motivated by sheer despair and hatred. I put my head down and ignored it. After a few minutes we were stopped and told the origami and teamwork was just a ploy, we were actually going to talk about dealing with SEN children.
“Did anyone think that argument was real?” asked the SENCO.
No hands went up.
“How did it make you feel? How would it make you feel if you were a child in a classroom when something like that happened?”
What I didn’t say: “Patronised”.
“Scared of the teacher.”
“Scared to ask for help.”
“Yes that’s right.”
What I didn’t say: “You do get that most arguments in classrooms are started by students? Are you aware that in year 9 there are several boys who start shouting at you the moment you ask them to work or to stop chatting with their friends? If you ask them to be quiet, or tell them why they need to work, they shout even more. If you try to punish one of them then he’ll pull out a card saying he has permission to go to the SENCO if he feels stressed. Those boys have become unteachable and it is your fault. Sometimes they look for some kind of excuse for the argument, like claiming they are picked on. A lot of the time they don’t even bother; the other day I had two of them go off at once because I told them I’d be looking to see how much work they had done at the end of the lesson.”
“Quite often, when a teacher shouts at an SEN student it is because the student hasn’t actually understood what they were supposed to do”.
What I didn’t say: “They have a legion of teaching assistants to do their work for them in this school. What’s to understand?”
After a few more attempts to blame the teachers the main speaker arrived. He was a “behaviour expert” who worked for the Local Authority. After a quick explanation of what challenging behaviour he asked us to discuss in groups and write down what students do to annoy us. Lots of sensible suggestions (talking out of turn, throwing, refusing to work etc.) were suggested.
What I didn’t say: “I know what behaviour most annoys me: Pulling out a card saying they can leave the room if they are challenged about their behaviour or effort”.
Then we were asked to do a similar exercise about what we do to wind up the students.
Answers were along the lines of:
“Telling them off when somebody else is also misbehaving.”
“Not praising their work.”
“Not explaining clearly what they have to do.”
“Giving them work that’s too difficult.”
What I didn’t say:
“Asking them to sit down.”
“Asking them to work.”
“Enforcing the rules.”
“What you need to understand is that behaviour is only the tip of the iceberg. The behaviour is just the symptom. The rest of the iceberg, below the water, is the cause of the behaviour. Their frustrations. Their poor social skills. Their home situation.”
What I didn’t say: “This is a model for natural phenomena, not the choices of human beings. We don’t have ‘causes’ we have motives: things that make us want to do bad things. And all human beings have motives to do wrong, they aren’t caused by social or medical deficiencies, they are just part of what it is to be human. Whether we act on those motives is a question of right and wrong. You have to choose to do what is right and you have to resist temptation to do wrong. How are they going to do this if we act as if their choices are symptoms of an underlying condition beyond their control?”
“We should ask ourselves if their behaviour prevents them from doing anything else. Whether it causes damage or danger. Whether it causes distress to the individual themselves or harm to others. If the answer is no, then why try to change it?”
What I didn’t say: “Because we are not isolated atomised individuals; whatever one child is allowed to do will be copied by other children. Whatever is acceptable will become normal. Whatever is normal they will continue to do out in the real world. This will cost them opportunities in life. If we tell them that rules are not to be followed unless there is an immediate, obvious harm caused by breaking them, then by the time they try to enter the workplace they by adulthood they will be unemployable and probably criminal.”
“The important thing is to judge the behaviour not the child.”
What I didn’t say: “If you are saying that we should not write off any kid as irredeemably evil then fair enough. But you cannot separate a person from their behaviour. From the point of view of other human beings we are our behaviour. That’s all we see of other people’s minds, their external behaviour. To treat somebody as if their behaviour is not part of who they are is to treat them as a machine not a human being. Human beings get to shape their own behaviour, and it would be downright dangerous to tell them they are not responsible for what they do.”
“Now let’s talk about body language.”
What I didn’t do: Pull out a card saying I could leave.