Meanwhile, Elsewhere in the Education SystemJune 17, 2007
I’ve met up with a number of friends over the last few weeks. It does happen occasionally. I don’t spend all my time teaching or complaining about teaching online. Sometimes I get a spare half day to meet up with friends in the real world.
Obviously when we do meet up we just end up talking about teaching*.
Two of my friends are currently PHD students, both studying science-based subjects. One of them is at a top university, another at a middle ranking one. Both of them spend at least some of their time teaching undergraduates. Both have seen a noticeable change in student attitudes since they were undergraduates themselves. The newer intakes expect to be told every little thing. They are lost if they are not spoon-fed every detail of their assignments. They are shocked if they are asked to think something over, their stock response being “you’re the teacher, you tell me” and sometimes they even say something along the lines of “I paid to come here, so you should just tell me”. Of course, for those of us engaged in school teaching there is no mystery as to where these attitudes have come from. They have been spoon-fed for years and are not prepared for when it stops, and they are less and less likely to have done really demanding academic work at A-level thanks to dumbing down.
Another friend I met up with is herself a teacher in a bog standard comprehensive. She told me about an incident that happened at her school. A girl in year 11 had brought a bottle of poppers (presumably amyl nitrate) into school and kept them in her coat pocket. When she went into her drama lesson she threw her coat onto the back of a chair, breaking the bottle and spilling its contents directly in front of the room’s heater. This resulted in the entire class being subjected to fumes and becoming slightly confused and disorientated (although knowing teenagers maybe this was unconnected to the fumes). When it was discovered what had happened the entire class had to be carted off to accident and emergency because the unknown nature of what they’d breathed in. Of course, drugging an entire class got the girl responsible excluded. For three days. This ludicrously lenient punishment is surprising even for the school concerned. Could it possibly have been because she just happened to be the daughter of a school governor?
A few of my friends work at one of the top schools in the area. However, it nevertheless has a large SEN cohort and they have a number of SEN staff who (despite not always being qualified teachers themselves) feel obliged to interfere with the work of teachers on a regular basis. The latest intervention by an SEN teacher in the life of one of my friends was to tell him that a child, who, having been told off for swearing at another student, called him a twat was not at fault. Apparently the incident was the result of “cultural differences” as the child was Chinese. However, the most dramatic effect on the school appears to be the change in the school’s vocabulary. I talked in my previous blog entry about SEN staff labelling students as autistic if they show almost any lack of social skills or any poor behaviour. At the school in question this has spread to the point where the word is used indiscriminately even to label staff. The maths department are now all known to be autistic. Most infamously one SEN teacher told some of her colleagues that “Hitler wasn’t evil, he was just a bit autistic”. I do wonder what parents of genuinely autistic children would make of this nonsense.
*Actually I don’t really mind talking about teaching. At least it’s something almost everybody can relate to. One of my pet hates at school social events is when one of my colleagues says something along the lines of “The rule is: Nobody can talk about work”. This amounts to “Don’t talk about the one thing we all have in common” and dooms us to endless talk about people’s houses, families and pets, which never interests me at all and as a topic of conversation hardly compares with discussing exactly why the Headteacher is a knob.