Archive for January, 2007

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Five Incidents that didn’t Result In A Permanent Exclusion

January 31, 2007

It’s pretty hard to get kicked out of school these days. Here are some incidents that didn’t make the grade, even where considerations of safety and justice were calling out for it.

  1. Leon Greyson rarely attended Woodrow Wilson School, even in year 8 he popped in no more than once a month, assaulted a teacher or two and ran off. One day he came in and started telling the white boys in his form that it was time to get “the Pakis”. That lunchtime he and his friends went round assaulting any Asian pupils in the year group, until they started ganging up together and fighting back. Gary, the Headteacher, was so shocked at what had happened that he got the whole of Year 8 to go to a special assembly in the hall.
    “This is completely unacceptable. We will not have this kind of racism happening in this school. Leon Grayson will not be back in school for a very long time”, he told the assembled students. Leon was excluded for a week and a half.
  2. Also at Woodrow Wilson School, Tommy in year 7 was discovered to have brought in a knife. Other students found out about this and reported it. He was sent home for the day and told that bringing a weapon into school was incredibly serious and if he ever did it again he would be kicked out. A month or two later he brought an airgun in. He was sent home for the day and told that bringing a weapon into school was incredibly serious and if he ever did it again he would be kicked out.
  3. Another racially motivated incident occurred in Year 11. Raj, an Asian boy with a long history of getting into trouble, managed to get into conflict with a white boy, apparently over nothing more than his skin colour.. He dealt with it by picking up the nearest blunt instrument and bludgeoning the boy around the head. The other boy ended up in casualty with serious head injuries. The overwhelming majority of children in his year group were outraged. Raj was sent home. He looked like being the first permanent exclusion in the school for a very long time. A few weeks later he was allowed to come back.
  4. At Stafford Green School, James Black was a special case. He’d been in very few lessons since the start of year 8. His habit of wondering to throw rocks at nearby buildings helped minimise his attendance.. One day, having been taken out of lessons he ran off from senior management and returned on a mini-bike and rode it (illegally, of course) all around the school site. I don’t think they bothered with any type of exclusion. It’s not as if he was going to attend school twice in one week.
  5. At the Metroplitan School, Lemuel was one of those tiny year 9s who was always getting into fights with any student small enough to feel threatened by him. The new year 7’s must have seemed like a dream come true. His victim, Les, was quiet and a convenient target. Lemuel pushed him down the stairs, splitting his face open. Les ended up in casualty having stitches. After that he never came to school regularly again. He was constantly absent, or walking out of school complaining he was scared of the other children. He had no previous history of truancy. His educational chances may well have been ruined, only time will tell. Lemuel on the other hand is still in attendance.

I’m sure other people have worse tales. I await the responses.

Discussion of this entry has now appeared on INFET and a particularly long and informative discussion took place on TES. This entry was also among those featured in a blog carnival.

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The Disruptive Girl

January 26, 2007

I described Jordan, the archetype of a naughty boy, in a previous entry.

The problem girl, Chantel, is very different. Chantel is older and studying for her GCSEs. She wears make up and has modified her school uniform dramatically through a variety of accessories and by losing her tie at break. She has a large group of friends who nevertheless seem quite close-knit. They have a strict hierarchy in which each girl has a place signified largely by volume. Chantel’s position is as the leader and this is signified by her greater decibel level.

This friendship group is very dedicated to the discussion of make-up, television, clothes, parties, what Darren said to Chelsie, and who committed what sexual acts with whom. Chantel’s major issue with teachers is their expectation that these conversations will cease during lessons. Anything that prevents the conversation, (eg. a seating plan, a request for silence, the setting of work) is a sign that you have failed to respect Chantel’s world. It is particularly grating if it is a subject where Chantel is not particularly gifted and she risks achieving less than other lower status members of the pack.

The first priority for Chantel is to establish dominance in class by provoking a confrontation. Not working, and sitting, mirror in hand, doing her make up is a good first strategy. If this doesn’t work then other back ups include: doing her Design homework (unless it’s a design lesson); asking to leave the room to get something from a child in another class; declaring undying hatred for the subject; complaining that somebody else in the room smells, (accompanied by the extensive and hazardous use of aerosols); or accusing a girl who isn’t in the gang of giving blow jobs to a skanky boy in Year 11.

Once the confrontation has been engineered then the argument begins.

You see the thing is:

She shouldn’t have to work at school, she’s going to be a beautician.
She’s just doing her make up, it’s not big deal.
Her Design homework is really important.
Your subject is gay.
Darren really does smell (and so do you), and unless toxic amounts of deodorant are sprayed into the air she will be sick.

And Nicola is a slag.

And she can’t believe that any teacher thinks she shouldn’t be saying this, they should chill out, get a life, get out of her face, and stop being “puh-fetick”.

And now the routine has begun. Techniques honed over years of bullying other girls are now to be used against an adult. You are the pathetic teacher who has given her a detention “for nuffink”. She is not going to work in your lesson ever again. Neither are her friends who also hate you. Any complaint you make about her is a lie and all her friends will back her up. You don’t understand the rules. Everybody else lets her do her make up, talk to her friends, listen to her i-Pod, text message her mother in lessons, turn up twenty minutes late and tear up her book. Nobody believes you anyway as you are a rubbish teacher, everybody says so even other members of staff. She (and her friends) are not going to work, if you get in their way they’re going to shout at you, or walk out, and they’re all going to do it because you are in the wrong.

And puh-fetick.

Of coiurse, it’s all your fault, she doesn’t have a problem with anybody else. You are the only one that gives her detentions or complains about her behaviour.

Except for Mr Canning.

And the teacher who taught her your subject last year.

And Miss Everitt. And Mr Peters

But other than that she’s fine for all her other teachers. And it’s all your fault, you can’t teach and your breath smells. And even if you manage to get her moved into another class she will come to your classroom anyway to talk to her friends and verbally abuse you.

There’s one benefit to Chantel’s routine. You can test the quality of a school. In a good school then somebody in authority (be it Senior Management or a good Year Head) will get to the gang and threaten them with parental involvement if they ever cross you again. Chantel, for sake of her position, will comply with this request. After all the fact that Chantel has to be asked to behave by somebody important just shows what an important person she is. In a bad school you will be told it’s your fault for having a bad relationship with the students and you can do nothing but count the days until Chantel leaves at the end of year 11 (or becomes a perpetual truant). The implicit message from SMT in these cases is clear:

Chantel’s right. You are puh-fetick.

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The Cast of Culprits Part 2: The Teachers

January 22, 2007

Until the mid 1970s, the acceptable degrees for secondary mathematics teachers were “mathematics” or “mathematics with physics”. Combined degrees in two or three subjects, including mathematics, then became acceptable. Today the range of acceptable degrees has broadened further still. In our own institution we look …. in cases where degree content is borderline, for good mathematics A-level results or a higher degree in a mumerate discipline.

Tikly et al (2000)

However even if it is unclear whether teachers with better personal academic records or qualifications are necessarily better teachers, there is concern about the difficulties experienced in recruiting teachers from the top end of the ability distribution. There is some evidence in the UK (Chevalier et al 2001; Nickell and Quintini 2002)….that current teachers are being drawn from further down the educational achievement or ability distribution than they were in the past.

Chevalier et al (2005)

In some ways teachers are probably better than ever. I am not accepting the often heard claims that using an interactive whiteboard and knowing how to plan a three part lesson represent major improvements, but I do believe that the climate of secondary education at the moment is such that teachers have to be exceptionally committed not to move to a job where they will not be treated with contempt and anger for the entire working day just for doing their job. (For instance they could become traffic wardens.)

However there are a few ways that teachers are part of the problems we are facing:

The trend over a number the decades has been for teachers to have ever lower qualifications each year. Accordingly many teachers can’t spell, have poor subject knowledge and aren’t familiar with developments in education. More critically we are no longer trained in anything much beyond the day to day business of teaching. While this change was a reaction to an excess of theory, teachers being taught the sociology of education rather than how to control a class, this has now reached the extreme point where those training to teach no longer have any opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a teacher. Academic, ethical and theoretical knowledge are no longer the norm. A quick way to demonstrate this is to look on any teacher’s forum on the internet for discussions of what “professionalism” means. You will find that most correspondents have no idea of what is pretty much a fundamental of the philosophy of education. You will also find that roughly half of those discussing it can’t spell it either.

Secondly, more and more teachers now see the current state of education as normal. Poor behaviour, mixed ability classes including students who won’t access any work, and classes that cannot be directly taught are part of their experience of every year of their teaching career, their training course, and increasingly their own education as well. Every year more and more teachers enter the profession believing that their job is to entertain children in an educational way in a chaotic environment, rather than to actually teach. In fact it’s debatable how many of us even know the dictionary definition of the word “teach”. It means “to give systematic information about (a subject or skill)” – nothing there about colouring in. I don’t think the “culture war” within teaching is lost yet, but there is a strong need for teachers to stand up for the belief that students should be expected to behave and teachers should be expected to teach in the literal sense of the word.

Finally, there is the behaviour of some the survivors of the current system. Many teachers have managed to carve out their own enclaves of civilisation in their classroom where the traditional assumptions still hold. However, many of the most ambitious teachers, including many school managers, have adopted other survival strategies. The key strategy is appeasement. The key aspects of this strategy are:

  • Lavish attention on the worst behaved students. Give them attention and praise, not just for their work but for anything that might win them over to you.
  • Make friends with the students. If they like you, then it won’t matter that they aren’t learning. This is easier to do in subjects where there is no formal assessment.
  • Don’t push the students too far with difficult work. In subjects which aren’t often assessed the students can believe they are doing well continually if thy never have to do difficult work.
  • Don’t follow the school procedures for discipline, particularly those that will involve other members of staff. It will antagonise the students and lead to management thinking you can’t handle your classes. Instead “swallow your smoke”.

Now imagine the effects this strategy has when employed across the school. Badly behaved pupils will always want attention, there will be low expectations of work, and teachers who set difficult work or maintain professional distance will be drawn into conflict with pupils. Moreover any teacher expecting outside support with behaviour will be seen as part of the problem.

These trends have created a significant “enemy within” for the teaching profession. There are strong signs, however, that within the normal teaching ranks they remain a minority. The dangers are that this is not the case within school management, and that the situation will get worse as more and more teachers with a solid professional ethos either leave the profession or eschew seeking promotion.

References:

Chevalier, Arnold; Dolton, Peter and McIntosh, S., Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in the UK: An analysis of graduate occupation choice from the 1960s to the 1990s, London School Of Economics, 2001

Chevalier, Arnold and Dolton, Peter, The Labour Market for Teachers, in Machin et all (2005)
Machin, Stephen and Vignoles, Anna, What’s the Good of Education, Princeton University Press 2005
Nickell, S. and Quintini, G., The consequences of the decline in public sector pay in Britain: A little bit of evidence, The Economic Journal 112, 2002
Tikly, Clare and Wolf, Alison, The Maths We Need Now: Demands, Deficits and Remedies. Institute of Education, 2000

Details of teacher qualifications can be found here http://www.dfes.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000413/sfr25-2003.pdf. Discussion of this entry and/or teacher qualifications can be found on INFET and TES

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A Good Class

January 17, 2007

“I can’t have this book, it’s retarded”
“Please take the book, Wayne, it’s not damaged or anything”
“I didn’t say it was damaged I said it was retarded”
“Can you take the book please, Wayne?”
“It’s retarded”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, please take it.”
“Are you saying there’s something wrong with being retarded?”

“I thought you were complaining about the book when you said it was retarded”
“You’ve upset me now, Sir. My sister’s retarded.”

Conversation with Wayne, Year 11

It gets easier in the second year at a school. It stops feeling like a struggle for survival. It is less of a fight to teach with most classes. You are more likely to be given some good classes.

However in a tough school a good class can still mean behaviour beyond what should be tolerable.

Here are some of the delightful happenings of just a term and a bit in my second year at Stafford Green with one of my nicest classes, a Year 11 set of above average ability, that I’d just taken over from Mr Peterson, a very able and experienced colleague, who had inevitably left to go to a different school. His comment to me was “they’ll be fine you just have to make sure Kerrie-Ann and Wayne are moved to the class below”. This was advice that Mertha my head of department refused to take. (The possibility exists that she may have been influenced by the fact she was the teacher of the class below.)

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Kerrie-Ann:

  • Failure to do any work, sitting in the wrong place, talking while I’m talking. Told me she won’t attend her detention. Have talked to her mother.
  • Kerrie-Ann left the lesson. (I haven’t set a detention as she still owes the maths department detentions)
  • Kerrie-Anne refused to sit where requested. Eventually removed by Deputy Head She has still done no coursework.I have been told she doesn’t do detentions. Please advise.

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Abbi:

  • Abbi arrived 11 minutes late then sat in the wrong place. She ignored repeated requests to move and wouldn’t even pick up her book from the correct seat. Finally I asked to speak to her outside and when I explained politely that she should sit where I’d requested she said she didn’t see the point and if I was bothered by where she sat I must be “a weirdo, a schizophrenic weirdo”.
  • Abbi came into the lesson arguing that she had never received the detention slip I gave her before half term (despite the fact that she’d previously discussed it with me), that it was unfair that I sent someone to collect her for the detention, and unfair that I’d informed her parents that she’d missed the detention and that she wouldn’t do the detention or any work. She then didn’t do any work. The original incident was for verbal abuse that I referred to Head of Department and Head Of Year, I’d welcome details of how this has been followed up.
  • Abbi began repeating the words I said and then asking repeatedly where I was from. I Said “Abbi stop ……” and she interrupted me with her impression of me saying “Abbi”. I asked her to leave the classroom. She didn’t go after 3 requests. She only left after I had gone to get help to remove her.
  • Abbi arrived 7 minutes late, ignored instructions to take her coat off, wouldn’t open her book and work. I encouraged her to work. She began complaining about being isolated from the lesson yesterday “for no reason”. I said that it was important she understand what that was about and offered to explain it outside. She declined to move. Then she began complaining that she never got into any trouble before I sat her on her own, I reminded that where she was sat was a result of her behaviour and the rules of the classroom. She said “you must have a crap memory”. I sent her to Mertha, she said it was pathetic to send her out, that I was pathetic and she refused to go to Mertha and went to find her Head of Year.
  • Abbi started taking photos in the lesson. When I spoke to her outside she insisted that there was nothing wrong with this. I suggested she talk to her year head. She took this as an invitation to walk off while I was dealing with some year 8s who were invading the corridor. Gemma left at about the same time.
  • Abbi repeatedly interrupted me (at least 6 times) to argue about Wayne being sent out of the lesson.When I refused to discuss it with her she called me pathetic. When I went for help to get her and Wayne removed she left (with Kerry-Ann and Gemma) but came back at the end of lesson stood in the corridor and (one of them) kept pushing open the door. This is the fourth time Abbi has verbally abused me this academic year.

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Gemma:

  • Interrupting. I moved her and she refused to go until Mertha had come to the room and repeated the instruction. Left the classroom part way through the lesson and didn’t return. Left the lesson. This is the second time she’s done this, am still chasing up the first time due to absence
  • Arrived in the classroom said, “Can I move classes I don’t like you?”. Gemma is friends with Abbi, her latest spate of appalling behaviour seems to be a response to Abbi’s ability to repeatedly verbally abuse me with minimal consequences.
  • Interrupted me. Laughed when I asked for quiet. I then warned her outside, The Deputy Head also warned her. When I told the class that if coursework deadline wasn’t met they’d being catching up after school next week she said that shee wouldn’t be attending. Then she began shouting out “they should bring Mr Peterson back”. Was asked to leave the classroom and refused. Finally removed by the Deputy Head

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Wayne:

  • Repeated interruptions while I was talking and when asked (after several warnings) to stand outside for a minute said “You’re an idiot”.
  • Wayne kept throwing things across the room, including one thing that hit me. When I sent him out he walked back in saying that he would get his trainers so he could clean them, he then flicked dirt from them over a number of other students,
  • Interrupting, throwing things, arguing. Called me an idiot.
  • Arrived late and instead of sitting down in the right place stood at the front and started a conversation. Eventually went to his seat but interrupted me repeatedly even after 5 warnings. I asked him to stand outside and he wouldn’t go. Removed by Mertha.
  • Repeated interruptions, arguing, refused to leave when sent outside. Had to be removed by Mertha

The above is not an example of a particularly bad class. Most of the students were able and keen to do well. This was however a target GCSE class for the school’s results. In terms of how the school would be judged this class would affect the schools results. Yet somehow in that class the same students could disrupt and disrupt again, up to and including verbal abuse, and I’d be waiting weeks for action and it would not include exclusion (temporary or permanent). Now I worked in a large department, and others were having a far worse time with year 11 than I was. So we can assume that there were many other classes with about the same level of behaviour or worse in the school. OFSTED had said the school was Very Good with only a small amount of poor behaviour, so we can probably assume that such incidents are repeated up and down the country to a greater or lesser extent in most schools.

We can be confident that vast numbers of GCSE students are being taught in classes where it’s a relatively frequent happening for students to refuse to work and to verbally abuse the teacher. Politicians, both locally and nationally, make a big deal about GCSE passes and are quick to claim credit when they rise. Well here’s a suggestion for making the results rise – how about doing something about behaviour? Does anyone really believe that an environment where verbal abuse and disruption are common place can really be the best place to learn?

Discussion of this entry can be found on INFET (Blog Update)

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Non-Discipline Day

January 13, 2007

Almost every book ever written about behaviour management will include this piece of advice: “Be consistent”. Now in practice there are some members of SMT who will give the opposite advice (“be flexible”,) but it is generally accepted that consistency is a key part of managing behaviour. Kids should know the rules and that the rules should always apply.
There is, unfortunately, a commonly made exception. Common sense will always retreat in front of tradition and many schools have developed the tradition of having a day where – for charity – some of the school rules, namely the ones related to school uniform, are suspended. On these Non-Discipline Days (more often known as “Non-Uniform Days”) teachers are no longer able to object to the gang colours, short skirts, expensive trainers, sexually explicit t-shirts and identity concealing head gear that a teenager is forced to wear by their peers when not protected by adults. And who could possibly object? It’s for charity.
Well I could object for the following reasons.

  1. Rules are not something that can be switched on and off. It makes no more sense to have a day when the uniform rules are relaxed than it would be to have a day where students are encouraged to skip lessons, break windows or burn down the canteen.
  2. School uniforms are one of the most important weapons against truancy. Simply put, if a parent makes sure their teenage child is in uniform and locked out of the house there is a more than reasonable chance they will end up in school eventually. Take the uniforms out of the equation and they are far more likely to race to the nearest amusement arcade, shopping mall or crack house. At Woodrow Wilson School SMT brought an end to the recurring cycle of Non-Discipline Days when it was noted that it reduced attendance in years 10 and 11 by over ten percent.
  3. Discipline is worse on these days. Children believe they won’t have to work as it is a special occasion. Caps and hoodies provide greater anonymity for truants and trouble makers. At my current school (which has a little bit of an internal truancy problem) I actually caught 14 different children out of lessons in a single afternoon on Non-Discipline day. (Well I say caught, a more accurate observation would be that in most cases I observed them pulling their hoods over their heads and running off.) And this is without mentioning the two girls in Year 9 who don’t do a thing all day because they have decided to do a sponsored silence to raise £1.63 in sponsorship money between them.
  4. You have to constantly explain which rules are still in place and which aren’t:“No, you can’t dye your hair in the toilets”; “You can’t wear hats indoors”; “Balaclavas and gimp masks are not acceptable”; “Yes, you still have to bring in a pen to write with”.
  5. Compassion inflation sets in. If the school could abandon the rules for Children In Need then they should do it for Comic Relief, and Jeans for Genes Day, and any emergency in the news, and for the local dogs home, and to fund the school’s awards day. It doesn’t take long before it’s one day a month and there’s still resentment from any teacher with a new good cause if they don’t get a day too.
  6. It’s a pain to collect the money in.

Of course part of the problem is that with schools failing to carry out their core function of educating children in an orderly environment then there is an abnormally strong desire to get them to carry out secondary functions, such as charitable fundraising, community work or school productions. All these things would be highly desirable if schools were doing the basics right, but seem utterly unnecessary when there is anarchy in the classrooms not being dealt with. I sometimes fear that if given a choice between achieving a 100% literacy rate among students and appearing in the local paper handing over a cheque for £137.50 to a donkey sanctuary, most headteachers would choose the latter. Nobody wants to be seen as uncharitable. Running a rubbish school is however entirely socially acceptable.

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The Cast of Culprits Part 1: The Students.

January 9, 2007

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!”

2 Kings 2:23 (NIV)

The young are in character prone to desire and ready to carry any desire they may form into action. Of bodily desires it is the sexual which they are most disposed to give way, and in regard to sexual desire they exercise no self-restraint. They are changeful too and fickle in their desires, which are as transitory as they are vehement; for their wishes are keen without being permanent, like a sick man is prone to hunger and thirst…….if the young commit a fault it is always on the side of excess and exaggeration for they carry everything too far, whether it be love or hatred or anything else. They regard themselves as omniscient and are positive in their assertion; this is, in fact, the reason for their carrying everything too far.

Aristotle writing 2330 years ago as cited in Beck et al (2003)

I now intend to explore the individuals that make up our education world. First on the list are the people it’s all about: the students. To listen to some teachers you’d think today’s children were without historical precedent. However a quick look at the quotes at the start of this entry reveals that feckless and delinquent youths have been around for as long as written records survive. Even distinctly modern problems, like rising divorce and illegitimacy, are unlikely to result in stresses on family life greater than some other eras (such as those during the world wars) have dealt with.

There are however factors that make recent generations of students stand out.

Age. There is a historical process by which the maximum age of the school population seems to be rising. It is only since 1973 that the school leaving age has been 16, and since then the law and regulations have changed further pushing the point at which students leave later and later in the year. There is now talk of raising the leaving age further. This process means that students are trapped in school to a later and later age. This has massive consequences for discipline – effective punishment is more difficult with 16 year olds than with 11 year olds. I am sure that I am not the only teacher that shudders when the media report suggestions that the school leaving age be raised to 18.

Attitudes Towards Knowledge. We now have developed a generation with very little respect for expertise. It is quite normal for adults, let alone students, to give no regard to expert knowledge. Look around you in the media for examples of

  • Painstakingly compiled statistics being dismissed as lies (almost any Government statistic is dismissed as fraudulent despite the mass of expert statisticians employed by the civil service). The fact that the methodology is publically known, the shortcomings openly stated and the research extensive does not stop people dismissing crime or unemployment figures as complete invention.
  • Journalists interviewing other journalists about highly complex topics.
  • The blurring of the boundaries of expertise (eg. biologists commenting on religion, linguists commenting on politics, scientists commenting on ethics).
  • Opinions voiced by those with no expertise of a subject appearing alongside the opinions of experts. (“Next we’ll be discussing the role of religion in society with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Shannon from Girls Aloud”).
  • The use of Vox Pops, i.e. interviews with random members of the public, as journalism. I can’t be the only person to react badly when a news broadcaster says “and now to find out what you think….”. I know what I think, thank you very much, I’d like to know what somebody better informed than me thinks if it’s all the same to you.

Now secondary teachers should be subject experts (degree level with a decent classification) imparting knowledge to the young. What hope do they have of gaining respect for that knowledge if expert knowledge is considered by society to be on a par with uninformed opinion? It is perhaps an irony that teachers who are so shocked that students don’t respect their expertise are as equally likely as others in society to disrespect the expertise of others.

Personal Responsibility. Children today live in a world where the traditional consequences of selfish, inconsiderate or even harmful actions have been neutered. The political right don’t hesitate to draw our attention towards the idea that the welfare state has helped save the poor from their own fecklessness. However even

for those not on the brink of poverty there are obvious signs that misdeeds and the price of misdeeds and misdemeanours no longer need be paid:

  • Shame. Behaviour that would once have scandalised communities is now beamed directly to our houses in soap operas and reality game shows.
  • Blame. A wide array of newly discovered syndromes (like Oppositional Defiance Disorder) has, along with the pervasiveness of pop psychology explanations of human behaviour, let it be known that people in general, and children in particular, are not to be considered to be in control of their own actions.
  • Conscience. An emphasis on feelings, have informed us all that feeling bad about doing bad things, is a psychological problem rather than a moral one.
  • Moral authority. Those institutions that might once have been seen as embodying morality such as churches, teachers, or the police have been either sidelined for being no longer relevant, or reformed so as to be less judgemental.
  • Commitment. Personal integrity is no longer held to be important. The most obvious example of this is “no fault divorce” whereby individuals can arrange to stop keeping their promises without any suggestion that this suggests bad faith on anybody’s part.
  • Punishment by parents. A no doubt well intentioned effort to stop abuse has left parents absolutely baffled as to how to chastise their children. Parents feel that a smack is assault, that disapproval is blackmail and that withdrawing treats is neglect.
  • Punishment by the police. I hate to think what would happen to a police officer that gave a naughty child a clip round the ears in public. For details of the morally neutral, non-judgemental character of modern policing methods see Copperfield (2006)

Without these forces then the pressure on individuals to take responsibility for their actions is far less. This is not just a moral problem, the ability to take responsibility for what is happening around you has also been identified as a key attribute for being effective in achieving personal and professional goals (Covey).

Now combine these three factors together and before we even start looking at the other players in education, there are reasons to suggest that the culture that influences students outside of school is often not one that equips the young with the values that will enable them to acquire the full benefits of full time education.

References:

Beck, John and Earl, Mary, Key Issues In Secondary Education, Continuum 2003
Copperfield, David, Wasting Police Time, Monday Books, 2006
Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, 1989
Lowe, Chris, Pupils, Their Education and the Law, The Questions Publishing Company, 1999

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The Naughty Boy

January 5, 2007

Malcolm began the lesson by announcing that he couldn’t enter the room because of the school’s one way system. He then tried to bring a friend (who wasn’t in my class) into the lesson. Then, aware that I will not allow students in with caps on said that he couldn’t enter the lesson because he wouldn’t take his off. Eventually he got bored of this, came in wearing the correct uniform and sat down, and behaved appropriately for approximately ten minutes before beginning to announce to the room at large that today’s topic, science in general, and myself, were “bare shit”. Receiving no response from this, he then asked me how he was supposed to do the work seeing as he couldn’t read. I asked him if he meant he couldn’t read at all, he said “yes”. I told him there was nothing I could do about that and it was not my job to do so and could he please stop interrupting me. At this point Malcolm lost his temper and began seriously trying to provoke me into a confrontation by saying (without response from me or anyone else) that:

1) He would not attend my detention tonight
2) When I came to get him he would run away
3) He would not attend any detention with me, ever
4) He was leaving because “this was shit anyway”.
5) He said something offensive about my mum and a hose which I didn’t understand
6) He threw some detention slips directly at me,
7) He told me to go and suck on my Nan’s left hairy testicle, which I did find quite upsetting as I was very close to my grandmother who passed away quite recently.
8) Malcolm then left the room without permission.

From the Behaviour Management database at Stafford Green School

People who have never taught and still see education from a child’s perspective often imagine that it is the hulking, brutal, older child that is the biggest problem for teachers. This is because it is that sort of child that creates the greatest problem for students through bullying and intimidation. In older people it might also be because a child who was big enough to fight back might have bee the least likely to be on the receiving end of (informal) corporal punishment.

However, for teachers, the worst, most disruptive children do not fit this profile at all. “Jordan” is more of a problem.

Jordan is a younger student. He will be less of a problem when he’s older as he will stop attending school from about the middle of year 9. He is shorter than average for his age, and although he likes sport he is not great at it. There may be psychological reasons as to why it’s the short kids that are the most crazy, perhaps it is to compensate for lack of stature that they are desperate to gain power over others through their behaviour.

Jordan’s writing skills are behind where they should be at his age, although to talk to him he seems no less articulate or intelligent, or possibly brighter than other students his age. At times this has led to suggestions that he has a special need, possibly dyslexia. However given that nobody has ever seen him attempt to learn anything it seems plausible that his poor writing skills stem from the fact that he refused to cooperate with his primary school teachers in much the same way as his secondary school teachers. Occasionally some enterprising SEN teacher or assistant will suggest he needs special help with writing and a TA will come into his lessons to help or he will be withdrawn from lessons for work in a small group or on a one-to-one basis. For about a week Jordan will enjoy the extra attention, then he will become bored with it and verbally abuse the TA, refuse to go to his special lesson, or behave appallingly in the special lesson. A few weeks later the SEN department will discover a more urgent need for their resources, although the SEN teacher involved may continue to tell other staff that they “have a good relationship” with Jordan.

Every child in his year knows who Jordan is and he has celebrity status as a result. Typically Jordan will turn up late to lessons heralded by the sounds of running and yelling and the sight of lights in the corridor being turned off. When he does arrive he might still be running and will definitely still be yelling. He might be yelling abuse at another student. He might be yelling “I neeeed a pen” at the teacher. He might even be yelling random words such as “baked beans” or “spotty and green”. He will expect the class and the teacher to stop work and pay attention to him. Failure to do that on the part of a student may be met by bullying later on. Failure to do that on the part of a teacher will lead to him deciding the teacher isn’t “safe” which will make that teacher a target for future abuse and disruption. The first ten minutes of the lesson which he attends are vital. It is from these the teacher will be able to decide whether Jordan will be able to stay in the lesson today. The test is to see whether you can talk to the class without Jordan interrupting. It is best not to use the main teaching part of the lesson to conduct this experiment, so normally the taking of the register, or recapping previous work is done at this point in the lesson to test the waters. The teacher’s chief worry is that the main part of the lesson will have just started when Jordan arrives and his arrival and subsequent behaviour will prevent anyone else from paying attention. On a bad day he will interrupt first with pointless interruptions, then if warned he will try and make his interruptions seem more purposeful – asking for equipment, complaining about other children, asking questions about the work – this will ensure that when the teacher attempts to stop the interruptions he can begin arguing. Arguing will start with an explanation of why his behaviour should have been tolerated, and ends with an appraisal of the teacher’s pedagogical skills, personal hygiene and/or sexual preference.

Jordan’s father does not live with him or his twelve siblings. His mother is a frequent visitor to the school (often unannounced to complain about her son being bullied by members of staff or his best friend) and will happily explain to him why he should behave, although never with a suggestion of any punishment if he doesn’t. She will also explain to the teacher that Jordan has an undiagnosed behaviour problem and he behaves really badly at home too. She will talk for hours about Jordan and his brothers and their various difficulties at school and with social services. Occasionally she will talk of moving Jordan to another school.

This won’t ever happen.

Every school will have a Jordan in it. Tough schools may have twenty or more Jordans. There was a time when such students may have ended up in a special school. In these enlightened days of Inclusion, this won’t happen and Jordan will last until he finds some hobby (stealing cars, dealing drugs) to divert him from his studies.

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Tour of Duty

January 1, 2007

One of the worst traps to watch out for in joining a school is The Break Duty From Hell. Assigning teachers to break duty is, like most administrative tasks in a school, done without planning or forethought. Often it is done on the basis of “what has always been done” and so it is not unknown to be given a break duty that involves overseeing parts of the site that has long since been demolished, built over or sold off. As a result of haphazard planning it is entirely possible for a teacher new to a school, or even new to teaching, to be given the worst possible break duty. Sometimes uncharitable older members of staff will even allow this to happen for their own convenience.

Break duty happens once or twice a week and mainly consists of reminding students of the rules and breaking up fights. As a result it is easier the more students you know by name, and the lower the density of rule-breaking at your location. Key skills needed are the ability to deter rule-breaking before it happens and the ability to confront rule-breaking in such a way that you aren’t forced to do anything to follow it up after break duty. Secondary skills include “ignoring rule breaking in such a way that students don’t realise you are deliberately ignoring it” and “not being anywhere nearby if a fight breaks out or a serious accident occurs”.

At Woodrow Wilson School my duty area was “around the year 11 block”. Not surprisingly this was quite a popular area for smokers making it utterly unsuited to a new teacher who didn’t know more than twenty of the two hundred 15 and 16 year olds that made up year 11. My arrival made little difference to the smokers and so I was torn between pointless confrontations and failing to notice the cigarettes, the children smoking them, or if necessary the entire back of the Year 11 block. Fortunately I had a free period beforehand…, sorry, I mean marking and preparation time, and I soon discovered that if I arrived before they did, the smokers would instead find another area of the school and the responsibility became tolerable.

The following year my duty was in the front of my own block, in broad daylight in the centre of the school. No problems arose, and I was joined by another teacher who had also been given the same easy job and we’d stand around chatting. Getting an easy duty was in effect time off of teacherly responsibilities.

When I moved to Stafford Green School my duty was the canteen. There were actually two canteens, one for years 7-8 and one for years 9, 10 and 11. As ever poor planning was the order of the day, and I, a new teacher and part of the Year 7 team, was given responsibility for the canteen with years 9, 10 and 11 very few of whom I knew. It was also quite a chaotic environment, there were two doors to watch (one for going in, one for going out) and I had to enforce rules about not taking food out as well as having to keep order in the canteen. Fortunately I was paired with a more established member of staff. Unfortunately they weren’t the most punctual of individuals. On one particular day they took over ten minutes to arrive. I did my best by concentrating on the out door. By the time they got there two year 11’s (who I had of course never met before) had pushed over furniture, and it just kicked off from there. A year 10 boy pushed past me. A year 9 boy slammed a door into me. Another year 10 boy threw a football at the back of my head.

Most of these offenders were later identified and told off, however three assaults in one break time (none from students I taught or had previously antagonised) takes its emotional toll. From that point on I refused to unlock the canteen doors until both members of staff were present and as a result nothing similar happened subsequently. However, this seemed to cause some resentment among the women serving in the canteen (perhaps they got paid a share of takings). On the plus side it did seem to result in my colleague being a lot more punctual. This arrangement lasted for over a year, and the following year the senior member of staff I was on duty with was the Deputy Head, Joan Broadacre.

When Joan was there things were far easier. However when she was late and I wouldn’t let the students in they could get quite irate. Eventually she told me to let them in as soon as I got there. By this point I already had a job elsewhere and it gave me great pleasure to say that having previously been assaulted doing that duty on my own she would have to consult with my union if she wanted me to endanger myself like that again. Within a month my duty had been swapped and I was out in the sunshine on the field watching students play football and chat. I didn’t so much as see a smoker let alone have to fight off an assault.

The moral of this story (other than schools are badly organised and you can’t rely on supposedly senior colleagues to do their jobs – which is pretty much the moral of every story on here) is: if you get shafted with The Break Duty From Hell, ask to have it changed, if necessary by kicking up a fuss, because even if you do cause offence it at least shows you actually turn up for duty, unlike half the teacher in the school.

For discussion relevant to this thread please see Breaktime Duty – Continual Problems on TES or Blog Update on INFET

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