Sorting out the teachers

JUST as it is with pupils, so it is with teachers. Both are affected by their learning and working environments, and the noted psychologist Alan McLean has done us a service this week with his reminder that it is not just the pupils who are disruptive (Platform, page 23). There has been considerable emphasis on the problem of incompetent teachers over the years, but very little on "disruptive teachers" (although this is perhaps a fine distinction). But, as McLean observes and every staffroom will know:

"Many teachers manage to transform difficult pupils' attitudes, while others amplify their problems."

His comments on the characteristics of disruptive behaviour among pupils and teachers - and the uncanny similarities - will make uncomfortable reading for some. But problems are never best resolved by sweeping them under the carpet. Every profession faces challenges of competence among its members and there is no reason to assume that teaching is any different.

Teachers who acknowledge their own ineffectiveness have taken the first step towards addressing it. There must surely be an incentive: it is the most stressful position to be in. Pupils can spot every teacher's Achille's heel and to be given a hard time by class after class is surely the fastest route to demotivation and burn-out. The problem is that such teachers need help but do not necessarily ask for it: so they end up in a vicious circle. And, of course, it is often easier to leave disruptive teachers with their disruptive classes than to tackle the underlying causes, which means school managements indulge in collusion and spend their time looking for carpets to sweep the problem out of sight.

At the launch of the Learning for Living and Earning initiative in Glasgow this week (page four), Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, called for more "excitement, creativity, energy, fun, drive and determination" in the school curriculum. Teachers who are dead on their feet, for whatever reason, are not likely to be the transforming agents Mr Stephen had in mind for that task.

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