Is This Normal?

October 21, 2007

New teachers often end up asking “Is this normal?” They wonder whether the things they are seeing are unprecedented, and quite possibly their own fault, or whether they occur more generally.

For their sake I am going to point out what is normal for students and school managers (unless you have lucked out and ended up at a school far superior to the ones I’ve worked in). The following behaviours are to be expected, not necessarily from every student and every school manager, but they will be seen on a daily basis.

How students behave:

  1. They will turn up unequipped. They will never have anything to write with, normally they will often not be in school uniform.
  2. They will want to sit where they like. They have no expectation that they or anybody else is going to learn. Therefore any request from you that they sit somewhere that won’t leave them free to sit and chat will seem like motiveless cruelty.
  3. They will not listen. Again they are not expecting to learn, so that the part of the lesson where you explain something to them is little more than a meaningless ritual to them. Asking them questions about what you’ve told them is therefore bizarre and inexplicable behaviour on your part.
  4. They do not recognise the rules of the school. They may have a strong idea that there were once some rules (like for instance the one suggesting they can’t sit in lessons chatting on their mobile phone for fifty minutes) but they understand them to no longer apply. Therefore anything you do in order to punish them is purely malicious on your part.
  5. You have no authority over them. There is nothing you can do to affect their behaviour, so why should they even acknowledge your presence let alone your authority?
  6. You are there to convenience them. Hand them equipment, listen to everything they yell at you and shape the classsroom to their tastes.
  7. Any behaviour on your part that doesn’t acknowledge these realities is irrational and threatening. Why are you complaining that they haven’t done the work when they clearly didn’t want to do it? Why are you criticising them for not following your instructions when they clearly weren’t listening to you?
  8. They will tell you exactly what they think of you and your lesson. There is no concept that opinions are something best kept to themselves. There is certainly no concept that the teacher is at liberty to say what is to be expected or what is needed in the educational process.

How schools are managed:

  1. The behaviour system won’t actually work. Rules will not be enforced. Students won’t actually turn up for detentions. Referrals won’t be followed up. Exclusions won’t happen. Worst of all the advice you were given about what to do when you need to remove a pupil from the room will be hopeless.
  2. Promises don’t actually count for school managers. They serve the purpose of improving morale but aren’t actually meant to be a guide to future events. Of particular concern is the promise “Jordan won’t be in your next lesson” after you have told them about something terrible that Jordan has just done. Not only will Jordan be in your next lesson but he, and all his mates, will now think that what he did last lesson is totally acceptable.
  3. School managers do not want to help with classroom based problems. They have jobs that consist of a huge list of tasks, some important, some impossible, some that can be ignored and helping teachers in the last of these categories. If they can make a difference to a new teacher who is crying in front of them, or somebody who is clearly looking up to them they might feel they should help. Generally though, helping teachers, even in cases of physical or verbal abuse, is to be avoided unless a teacher has walked out of the classroom, contacted their unions, called the police, called in sick with stress or in some other way created a situation which will have implications for management.
  4. Anything that creates work for school managers is a bad idea. It is a particularly bad idea if it involves changing anything.
  5. Teachers must document everything they do as written evidence is vital. Managers must never document what they do, as written evidence is incriminating. In particular if you ask what happened about the problem you reported to them last week they don’t now remember as they didn’t keep a record.
  6. You are there to convenience them. Solve their problems, listen to everything they say, shape the school to their convenience.
  7. Any behaviour on your part that doesn’t acknowledge these realities is irrational and threatening. Why are you complaining about the chaos and lack of learning in the school when that’s clearly the fault of the teachers? Why are you upset that they have done nothing about the ongoing discipline problem they said they’d help with when they clearly never actually cared?
  8. They will not tell you what they think of you. They will discuss it with your line manager, use it as a reason to blame you for things behind your back and even put it on references when you try to escape. But they daren’t say it to your face because if management actually let staff know how little they were valued there wouldn’t be one teacher left in the school.


  1. As a PGCE student, very helpful ;-) I love your blog!

  2. I don’t agree with the above comment (about you being crap not the 3 pages of Spam nonsense)I wonder if the above comment was made by a teacher or an armchair pundit who cannot comprehend how demoralising 17 groups of non compliant teenagers per week can be. You do, it seems, sound like a high minded individual who has or is working at schools with difficult pupils and an unsupportive SLT. My current employer, although not a paradise, does have systems of sanctions and support which are followed through and a slight majority of civilised pupils. Perhaps a high minded individual is better off taking your values, impeccable subject knowledge and attention to detail to a high minded educational establishment not zookeeping in the bottom end of the state sector. Quite often the least dilligent and most feckless seem to thrive in tougher schools. (Sorry if that sounds like unsolicited careers advice)

  3. I wanted a clever response …

    but my comment is invalid.

    It lets spam in though … sigh

  4. “I don’t agree with the above comment (about you being crap not the 3 pages of Spam nonsense)”

    Apologies, I appear to have deleted what you were replying to along with the spam.

    With regards to moving to a “high-minded establishment”, I may reach a point where I find it too much effort to make a difference where I am. But as things stand I have chosen to be where I am. I’m not sitting helplessly on the sidelines musing about how terrible it is, I am fighting it. I am doing my bit to provide a genuine education in a tough school.

    My blog is here just to make other people realise that they are not alone, it is this bad and we should be fighting it.

  5. You are absolutely spot-on correct, and I agree with every word you’ve written.

    Sad, isn’t it. Somehow, our schools have been allowed to deteriorate to the point that the inmates are in charge of the institution, and those who genuinely wish to learn and advance have been relegated to the back of the room while we are forced to spend all of our time dealing with criminals, idiots, clowns, and the parents who spawned them, almost exclusively.

  6. Yeah, normal is abnormal when it comes to the field of education, apparently. But that’s how I was able to write my book!

    All of your points are well made and dead on correct.
    Oh, and by the way, credit cards instant approval poor bad credit cards…

  7. “those who genuinely wish to learn and advance have been relegated to the back of the room while we are forced to spend all of our time dealing with criminals, idiots, clowns, and the parents who spawned them, almost exclusively”

    Well said. Who do you want to work with? The child who is trying hard to write a coherent sentence, but is struggling to do so.

    Who do you spend time with?

    The child who does not want to be in, does not want to learn, and sees you as an imposition on their otherwise busy routine of hair curling and texting.

    sad isn’t the word.

    It’s all the teacher’s fault.

  8. The comments about how schools are managed are true at our school in the Middle East, as well. I can tell you teach secondary just from your comments about students. When I taught secondary, that was true where I was in America, and is true in our school now. But in elementary (where I currently teach third grade) they are still so excited about learning that they won’t stay home even when sick! I’m lucky this year to have a class where every single kid comes to school excited about school, and excited about learning (eight-year-olds).

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  9. I’m sorry that you are in this kind of situation. I guess I’ve been lucky over the past 29 years and things were never this bad. I believe that it all depends on the administration you have and the communication involved. If I ever felt this way I met with the administration and discussed my frustrations. I was able to enlist the help of many parents also. My constant communication with parents kept me from having to involve the admin too much so it made life much easier for me. I think it would be time to move on to greener pastures if I had to teach in this environment. I don’t believe every school is like this because I have taught in 5 different schools and hadn’t faced this.

  10. I take it you don’t teach in England?

    In my career every school has been like this and 5 out of the 6 headteachers I’ve worked for ran things exactly as described.

  11. “seem like motiveless cruelty”
    LOL at that one! It’s so well-observed. I see it in their faces, the blank incomprehension of a small dog that you’ve just kicked.

    From a previous response: “kids who don’t want to be there”. Correct. They’d rather be on the streets, in bed, wired up to some electrical no-effort amusement device, anywhere. At which point did that start being described as “the system failing them”? It has in the past been regarded at best as a bit of hard luck and at worst a charcter flaw that might be beaten out of them, but recently it seems to have become positively validated.

  12. […] Is This Normal? […]

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