My forty grand stand against bad parenting

Rob Jefferies

I was reading the TES Magazine the other day when suddenly I felt a pang of excitement. It wasn't over reading about new jobs and the thought of teaching in sunnier climes. It was over comments made by Ann McManus, former teacher and creator of the popular TV drama Waterloo Road.

In the article, she declared teachers should start their careers on Pounds 40,000. I like this woman - she is 100 per cent right. The job a teacher does in this topsy-turvy age deserves more pay, and starting on 40 grand would go some way towards matching the effort that teachers put in and the stress they are put under.

In the past, most teachers would stand in front of the class and teach, some would sit, and some - like an old cover teacher I remember - would let us play noughts and crosses while he read the newspaper.

But today, life in front of the whiteboard is a different prospect. We can't just teach any more, mark books, and nip off home at the end of the day. A new breed of teacher is needed: enter the superteacher.

This has happened because many parents expect us to bring up their children. In our school, the teacher has the role of mentor, comforter, planner, assessor, role model, disciplinarian and - oh - of course, teacher.

The social situation has got so bad that a new strategy has been devised. Flying Start is a programme that seeks to educate new parents on how to bring up their children. The hope is that this will have a positive effect in the classroom later on.

As teachers, we have become surrogate parents, trying to instil manners and respect into the next generation. It still amazes me when a child continually talks in class and I use a quiet clipped tone to say, "Excuse me, where are your manners?" or "You are being ever so rude", and they automatically stop, but at the same time look confused. They aren't entirely sure what I mean, but they feel somewhere deep inside that it is wrong to behave in such a way.

A lot of children do actually know what decent behaviour is. But, alas, in the main, the right examples are not being set at home.

Children today are not just sent to school to learn academically, they are sent to learn about social skills and behaviour. The superteacher is expected to turn them into decent, well-adjusted human beings. But first and foremost we are paid to teach.

Even the police are beginning to pass the buck on to teachers for bad behaviour. By letting their kids run riot at home, parents have opened a Pandora's box of troubles for society. Some children get into trouble and may even end up in prison when they are older. But this is not the fault of the police. They, like us, are just trying to come up with another solution to shore up our crumbling society.

It is parents who are to blame.

When is the rest of Britain going to stop looking to schools to save the day, improve standards in education, turn children into decent human beings, prevent them from going off the rails, and teach them to eat healthily to boot?

If all parents read to their children in the early years, played, painted and did jigsaws with them, this would surely improve standards in education. Then teachers wouldn't have to start from scratch when children turn four.

If all parents disciplined their children and brought them up well-mannered, it would not be left to teachers to mop up.

We really do have an uphill struggle sometimes. I've lost count of the number of times I've told a parent how well-behaved their "little angel" is in school, only for them to reply: "She's not like that at home." I want to scream back: "If you did your job as a parent properly, she would be."

As a parent of two young children, I know how easy it can be just to sit them down in front of yet another Disney film. But doing this all the time is wrong.

I also know how tricky it can be to discipline children by sending them to sit on the naughty step for five minutes. TV's Supernanny told me to do it, and I do - even though I'm overtired and overworked.

But things don't change overnight. The slow destruction of how to bring up kids has taken years to perfect.

In the past, parents learnt from their own parents how to bring up children. But somehow we have ended up with people unfamiliar with respect and good manners having kids. These low expectations have been passed on to the next generation.

So it is here that I make my 40 grand stand and salute the creator of Waterloo Road for saying that teachers are entitled to more pay. We deserve it!

It's a nice thought, but let's face it isn't going to happen. Or will it?

Rob Jefferies, Teacher at Blaencaerau Junior School, Caerau, near Maesteg, and children's author.

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Rob Jefferies

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