Don't blame the kids

Stuart Waiton

Strength of character is the key to order in the classroom, not pointing the finger at politicians and parents, says Stuart Waiton

lassroom behaviour is an accepted problem within schools and within politics, and there does indeed appear to be a problem that children no longer spontaneously accept the authority of teachers. The children's rights framework and the litigious nature of society certainly make life more difficult for some teachers today. However, as a recent research campaign by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers illustrates, many of those within the teaching establishment are actually making the situation worse by encouraging teachers to have a passive, or at best technical, relationship with this issue.

One immediate problem with the way this research was promoted in the press was that teachers were portrayed as being keen to leave the profession - due to "insolence", but also because 16 per cent had "experienced problems of physical violence". The implication of this reporting was that teachers had themselves been physically attacked. After reading the actual report, however, it becomes clear that this violence was almost all between pupils themselves. Physical violence against teachers was in fact extremely rare.

Fighting in class may well be a problem, but this example gives some indication about how problems are interpreted and represented to paint a picture that is often worse than the reality.

More problematic than this, however, was the way student teachers' fears were used as an illustration of the problem of behaviour. Before they had even stepped into a classroom, many of these newly qualified teachers expressed concern about indiscipline in class which, for the NASUWT, was proof of the problem. But this, rather than reflecting a problem of behaviour in and of itself, may actually illustrate the way behaviour in class has become part of the "politics of fear" and an exaggerated social concern promoted in the media and by certain teaching unions.

Student teachers who were worried about what they would face in the classroom were also portrayed as victims of children's bad behaviour. That many of these new teachers were clearly anxious about how they would control a class was reported with shock headlines, but surely this is not a new fear and must have been one of, if not the, most daunting thoughts for almost all previous generations of teachers.

Throughout the report, The Professional Development of Newly Qualified Teachers, the difficulties that these teachers subsequently faced when attempting to control a class were one-sidedly used as evidence of the growing problem of children's behaviour. But again, the first few years of a teacher's career are likely to be the most difficult in relation to controlling classrooms. Yet there was little recognition that teachers had to learn from their own experience how to enforce discipline.

Some of those interviewed pointed out that they had some difficulties in their first few years in the profession, but that this was to be expected and that it was their responsibility to learn how to deal with it. Others, however, appeared to think it was a problem that was somehow not to do with them. This has been encouraged by the NASUWT and others within the profession who attempt to point the finger at parents, children or the Government, rather than accept that the key to disciplined classrooms lies with teachers themselves.

The only activity for teachers suggested within the research was for them to go on more training courses to develop new skills. But this is not a skills problem so much as a question of individual adults' character and will.

Teaching is and always has been a tough job at times and some individuals - such as the supply teacher who ran out of my geography class crying when I was 14 - are simply too soft to cope. The majority who can cope should be given the time and space to develop their own authority - rather than be encouraged to have this given to them by a consultant waving a behaviour management textbook.

Some new problems do exist in the classroom and many others are exaggerated but, by encouraging new teachers to regard themselves as passive victims of naughty children, the problems will only become worse.

Stuart Waiton is a director of

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Stuart Waiton

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