This morning we wake up to news that Mr. Gove wants teachers to do more to improve behaviour in schools. Does he really think that this is not a top priority for schools already? Without good behaviour, children can’t learn. It is disruptive in the classroom and deprives others of their right to education. Every teacher I know would agree with this. Schools have working policies which are driven by good behaviour and have accepted sanctions for dealing with those who can’t behave acceptably. So far so good.
What Mr. Gove doesn’t seem to understand is that children have changed massively since his schooldays (even though he openly admits to being a naughty boy at school in Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20034101). I started teaching in September 1975 when the cane was used regularly to discipline children. I only witnessed its use once and never want to see that sort of thing again. However, parents were usually happy with the system and if a child went home to tell parents that he / she had been caned, they generally got boxed ears at home too for being naughty in school. Not so today. The cane came and went. The rules on disciplining children changed and other methods had to be found to ‘encourage’ good behaviour in the classroom. Now we come to the hard part…..
I have a over thirty years of experience in the classroom and have never found any one particular method of discipline universally acceptable. Every child is different. Some respond well to a stern look. Others will just laugh at you and tell you where to shove your discipline. Not only that, but I have often come across the backlash from home after punishing a disruptive pupil. I have had parents on the phone telling me what they would like to do with my choice of sanction. In one school, I witnessed a mother storm down the corridor, buggy with child being ploughed down the route to the staffroom, assorted ranks of children trotting behind, aiming for the cowering member of staff locked in the staffroom and punching a hole with her fist through the wooden door. She clearly didn’t like the school disciplining her child!
So what is to be done? according to Mr. Gove, we go back to lines and litter-picking. What he doesn’t tell us is what we do next when the child (and its parents) say ‘F*** your lines. I’m not doing them!’ We start on a journey which generally leads to some sort of exclusion (‘2 days off school? Thanks dry much!’) or silent containment in a cubicle in a converted gym changing room.
I have been guilty of using litter-picking as a punishment. It isn’t nice and looking back now, I’m not happy about using it either. Having said that, I taught Japanese children for a while and they told me that schools in Japan don’t employ cleaners. The children clean the school at the end of the day. This is an interesting way to get children to accept responsibility for their school’s appearance but is done by all children, not as a punishment. Would I be happy if my grandson was told to pick up litter? I think the answer would have to be ‘No’. However, I know for a fact that if he had been naughty at school, we as his family would do everything in our power to show him the error of his ways!
It has been interesting to write down my thoughts this morning because I don’t have an answer to the problem. Every teacher wants good behaviour. Every teacher tries a wide variety of methods to reach this goal. But every school has a small number of pupils who simply can’t be reached. They will kick out (sometimes literally) against discipline, will abuse teachers both verbally and physically (I myself have been pinned up against a wall by my throat for asking a boy to pick up a piece of paper he’d dropped on the floor) and laugh in your face if you remind them that this will go on their record. The answer, in my opinion, still lies at home. In an ideal world, parents will ‘teach’ good behaviour and respect before children start school and then schools and parents will pull together to tackle poor behaviour. once they are in school.
But sadly, this is not an ideal world, Mr. Gove, nor is it likely to be whilst we continue to criticise teachers and imply that they are not able to deal with behaviour adequately.