Don't panic about childish race views

17th October 2003 at 01:00
I take issue with the view that British pupils are particularly racist and that overseas teachers need special training to cope with their abuse ("Racism exposed in secondaries", TES, September 26).

When pupils learn that I'm Italian, they often ask me "Are you in the Mafia, Sir?" or "Can you make pizza?" They are really impressed when I lie that some of my relatives are in the Mafia and I can make wonderful pizzas.

Then I ask them: "What else do you know about Italy?" "It's a boot-shaped country, Sir." "Well done, Tyrone."

Children use stereotypes, sometimes racist ones, to try to make sense of the world. The best way to beat prejudice is to engage pupils in an open discussion and establish a relationship, so that their knowledge of a foreign teacher can become more subtle than a simple stereotype.

However, the relationship has to be a genuine one. It cannot be based on a formula learned on a course or imposed by a third party.

It is true that many overseas teachers are shocked by the lack of discipline in some schools, but so are British teachers. Indeed, behaviour management training is offered to all teachers on a regular basis.

Yet British kids are no more or less disruptive than children in other countries. What's different is that our education system is unsure how to socialise children and defensive, indirect and contradictory when it comes to enforcing any kind of rules.

It is adult uncertainty and defensiveness that invites children to misbehave. To make things worse, our education system views teachers with extreme suspicion and monitors our every move in the classroom, as if we were hiding weapons of mass destruction.

What all teachers, native and foreign alike, need is more trust and less interference from so-called experts. If the education system does not respect teachers, why should children?

Michele Ledda

30 Wood Lane, Leeds

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