A Few More Words About AppeasementMarch 23, 2008
… treat the worst kid in the class like your favourite student. The nice kids are bright enough to not mind as they know you’re taking the piss and the other naughties think if she’s that nice to dominic who’s worse than me she’ll be really nice to me assuming im half ok. its odd but seems to work.[sic]
Poster on the TES website explaining their preferred behaviour management strategy.
I talked before about “The Appeasers”, teachers whose survival strategy is to win over the worst kids. Last time I characterised their personality types, here I am going to look at the effect they have on schools and students.
The Appeasers are the living embodiment of the idea that “discipline is about relationships”. For those students who work well and want to learn then there is no need for The Appeaser to build a good relationship. Abigail will come into the classroom first sit down and work. She will only talk if she is left waiting, and even then she is likely to talk respectfully and politely to a member of staff rather than her peers. She is too easy for anyone to need to win her over. She is of no concern to The Appeaser. Other students, like Reece, come in late demanding attention and he will not be satisfied until he gets it. Often that attention is automatic from the other students; they know they will risk violence, theft or being ostracised if they don’t let Reece have his time in the spotlight. The only real challenge is the teacher. It is at this point that The Appeaser comes into his or her own:
“Lovely to see you, Reece. Is that a new hat? How was your weekend? Where would you like to sit. Here’s your book and a pencil. You’ve sat down without being asked. Well done that’s excellent behaviour. Here have a merit.”
Abigail will sit in silence with her hand up waiting for help with the work during the five minutes it takes to get Reece started with complements being paid to him all the time. For the early part of Reece’s time at secondary school this will have a positive effect on behaviour management in his classes. Reece is more likely to cooperate for the teacher who appears to admire him as much as he admires himself. He may even disrupt Abigail’s learning less than he would if he was still fighting to get that attention.
Of course, the problems that have been created by this temporary fix are numerous:
- The whole class has been taught that Reece is more important than Abigail. They will, over time, seek to follow his model rather than hers. By year ten there are very few Abigails left and many, many Reeces. The Appeasers have no chance to appease an army of Reeces. This is why Appeasers always seem to teach young children, very small classes or withdraw to positions in senior management. It is also why they often seem to believe that all problems in education could be solved by smaller class sizes.
- The situation is unhealthy and repellant. Justice has not been done. Abigail will have been punished for being good. Reece will have been rewarded for being bad. Both will have internalised that message. Reece loves himself even more. Abigail has had her self-esteem lowered. Tough schools always have lot of evil children with high self-esteem and lovely children who hate themselves. Ironically, there is still a lot of talk about raising the self-esteem of students with behaviour problems. Selfishness is not seen as a behaviour problem, it is seen as a route to good behaviour.
- The system and procedures of the school have been thrown out. It’s bad enough ethically that Reece has been rewarded rather than punished and Abigail punished rather than rewarded, but it is also in violation of the rules of the school. Whenever the rules are ignored they become weaker.
- Reece will expect the same treatment from every teacher. Any teacher who does not behave in the same way must be picking on him. If they punish him according to the school rules it is particularly cruel and unfair, and his mother, who is in no small way an Appeaser herself, will be phoning in to complain. He will expect to be able to do what he likes, whenever he likes, with only positive encouragement from the teachers who are already treating him like he’s the boss as a constraint on his behaviour. By the time Reece is in year 9 new teachers to the school won’t have a chance with him.
- Morale among staff suffers as they become split between The Appeasers and The Educators. An Educator troubled by Reece’s behaviour will be told by an Appeaser “he’s always fine for me”. Educators who try to enforce discipline will have their time wasted, and or even be victimised, by Appeasers in management. Questions will be asked such as “Why do you give so many detentions?” and “Have you tried asking Reece why he walks out of your lesson?” Teachers will get judged by the amount of punishments they issue. Support won’t be given with serious behaviour problems because staff must have brought them on themselves by not appeasing. Worst of all, because appeasement doesn’t work in the most difficult situations Appeasers will always try to dump the worst children on other members of staff and then blame them when there are problems.
A culture of appeasement with the kids is the flip-side to a culture of blame among the staff. Appeasers believe they have cracked the behaviour problem in the school. According to their perspective it is only those old fashioned and inexperienced teachers who believe that children shouldn’t be rewarded for bad behaviour who have problems with behaviour. Only when the last staff member has accepted the message that the bad kids rule the school will there be peace and harmony.