Editorial - To deliver tough love, you need support

18th July 2014 at 01:00

"Today, one of my primary pupils threatened to stab me in the face. He has had a difficult day, been aggressive towards me, and when I refused to be drawn into the situation said, `That shut you up, you tramp'."

This is just one of many recent posts from desperate UK teachers seeking help and advice on the TES Connect forums. Bad behaviour from students affects most teachers at some point in their careers. Not only does it prevent teaching and learning from taking place, it can also make life a total misery, causing stress, anxiety and depression.

But are the problems of teachers in England any different from those faced by their counterparts elsewhere in the world? TES polled more than 6,000 teachers in the UK, US and Australia and found that despite being on different continents, educators, it seems, are all battling similar issues. A deterioration in behaviour over the past five years is reported across the board, with 35 per cent of teachers in Australia, 44 per cent in the UK and 49 per cent in the US saying it has worsened in their schools.

Roughly half of teachers in our survey have been reduced to tears by pupils. Worse still, a similar number, like our forum poster, have been physically threatened. It is, as TES behaviour expert and London teacher Tom Bennett says, "a terrifying statistic" and should "give pause for thought to teacher trainers, school managers and those who argue for endless, pointless appeasement".

Mollification is a strategy that gets us nowhere. Seth Robey, a teacher in Chicago, warns of a trend in US schools of trying to cover up all but the most serious incidents because suspensions, detentions and expulsions all show up in statistics that can tarnish their image. And this is a problem also encountered in England. A recent report from a 10-year study by the University of East Anglia finds levels of indiscipline being "seriously underestimated" as schools put on a performance to satisfy Ofsted and keep expulsion rates down for fear of damaging their reputation.

But behaviour should not be viewed merely as a school problem. Many of the issues encountered are social and support from home is vital. Teachers across all three continents overwhelmingly feel that parents should take responsibility for the way their children behave in class (81 per cent in Australia, 89 per cent in the UK and 90 per cent in the US).

The teachers writing in this week's issue all argue for clear and meaningful values to be imparted to children. They must be told that following rules is not optional - what Tom Bennett has called "setting boundaries with love".

And it would be welcome to see policymakers, as well as parents, publicly supporting teachers' efforts. Our new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, says she is looking "forward immensely to working alongside parents, teachers and schools to ensure we have world-class schools". She would be wise not to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor by telling the profession to "man up". As one teacher remarked on Twitter this week: "He never did have to teach an inner-city Year 8 bottom set."

We already have some world-class schools in this country but what they need is world-class support. And tackling behaviour and discipline wouldn't be a bad place to start.



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