Driven out by wild behaviour

16th April 2004 at 01:00
Steve Devrell has had enough of trying to teach in an anarchic jungle

When you've been in the classroom for more than 30 years and every day is like a bush tucker trial, perhaps, like John Lydon, who walked out of ITV's I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, it's time to walk that bridge to freedom. To be fair I've probably stayed in the jungle longer than most, but now I feel it's time to get out.

Don't think I am some whingeing old teacher with leatherette elbow pads and a profusion of nasal hair. I'm not. I've always enjoyed the classroom (even with kids in it), but, like so many of my colleagues, I feel I'm fighting an overwhelming tide of disruption. Teaching has become something you do on those odd occasions when you are not dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

There is little support for the beleaguered class teacher. Paperwork and appeals procedures that are weighted heavily in favour of the parent discourage us from suspending or expelling children. So we are forced to grin and bear it.

The real problem is a growing disregard for education. It is not valued enough and is often seen as simply a convenient child-minding service. If you ask parents why they send their children to school, most would reply "to learn", few would reply "to be educated". Learning can happen anywhere and can involve the sinister as well as the good. Education is specific: it is the purpose of schools, but few appreciate this distinction. Britain's almost unique admiration of the deviant in society devalues education's worth and makes the teacher's job far more difficult. The lovable rogues and the incorrigible rascals are the heroes of modern Britain, while the intelligent, industrious child is made out to be "geeky", a figure of fun.

What a sad reflection on our society - and what a shameful contribution the media makes. It is almost as if TV producers have finally discovered children laugh at lavatory humour and, now they have stumbled on this winning formula, they're not going to stop. If I wanted to entertain the children in my class, I would just stand at the front and blow raspberries all day. But my responsibilities are greater than that and so is television's.

I recently watched a children's performance of Macbeth at a reputable theatre in Birmingham. Obviously the producers thought the Bard on his own would not be enough to entertain 1,000 or so youngsters, so they sent one of the cast around between scenes to shout "Who's farted?" When I asked the children what they'd enjoyed most about the play, everyone, without exception, referred to these interruptions.

Our children's sporting heroes can also be seen swearing and spitting; censorship of behaviour while playing sport seems to have disappeared in an attempt to recreate the "big match" atmosphere. How much atmosphere is really created in showing a mouthful of gob? And what an irony it is that almost all the newspapers our youngsters have the ability to read are mildly pornographic.

Little wonder that our schools are affected by low-level disruption and rudeness. It is the diet society feeds our children and schools are left to sort out the mess. Education is so often viewed as an inconvenience rather than a necessity, and teachers are portrayed as quirky, bumbling and out of touch. If this stereotype actually existed, they would not last five minutes with the growing band of disruptive and uninterested students in our schools.

So what are the education authorities doing? Well one has come up with the incredible idea of giving the miscreants lottery tickets and beef burgers, thus sanctioning gambling and obesity as rewards. Or, if you are really bad, you get labelled with "a syndrome". Students like this because they receive extra attention and privileges, parents like it because they are absolved of any blame.

Schools face a difficult future. On one hand you have a government blindly striving for that "silk purse" while a careless society aims to trivialise the importance of education. Meanwhile, the teacher is stuck in the middle.

No wonder so many are standing up and shouting: "I'm a teacher; Get me out of here!"

Steve Devrell is deputy head of a Solihull primary school

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