Embrace disaster

31st October 2014 at 00:00

the Bank of England recently undertook an unusual exercise: its top-tier financiers role-played what would happen in the event of a banking crash (as if they've not had enough practice).

The emergency services also regularly train for disaster scenarios designed to test their systems to destruction. Yet their mindset is restorative; they fix things.

This presumes that something is broken. Doctors don't ask you if there is something wrong with you; they presume a pathology. Mechanics are not surprised when you tell them your Hyundai i20 has worn brake pads; their whole industry leans towards a reparative model. Expect things to be broken, they suggest. When they are, we will know what to do.

We need this attitude in education. We should assume that things will be broken. We should expect situations that require healing. But we don't. We lead teachers into a kind of blissful ignorance by training them to handle Ideal Home Show scenarios, when the reality is that many classrooms, departments and relationships will resemble the Battle of Rorke's Drift.

For the past couple of decades, new teachers have been given the wettest training in behaviour management, presumably based on the breezy assumption that they probably won't need it, when, God knows, they do.

It's the kind of question that keeps trainee teachers awake at night: "What happens if they chuck a chair at me?" "What happens if they say no?" It's not a matter of if, but when. Someone will. Eventually. So we should make sure that new teachers know what to do.

This is also vital at a department level. When I started teaching, it felt as though I never finished anything properly. There was always some task to be completed and I felt like a constant failure. I worked in schools for years before it hit me: this was perfectly normal. An empty inbox, a clear desk, a cupboard full of marked books.these are abnormal.

Teachers need to learn how to cope with a deluge of work that never ends. We should brace them for poor behaviour, absenteeism and underachievement, so that they know what to do when (not if) they come across them.

This is something to be aware of when observing lessons: are we imagining an ideal class and ticking off the flaws? Or do we assess the condition of the room and prescribe the therapy that is needed?

When I coach new staff and see their rooms in ruin, I don't think that something is going wrong. I recognise that this is a perfectly normal new teacher at the beginning of a relationship with their class and career.

Which is not to say that we should accept it, but that we shouldn't pop a vein because things aren't perfect. That serves no end and creates a culture of blame.

Broken is to be expected, just as tired and below par are normal. People fret that they're too tired all the time and wonder what it is that ails them. The answer is nothing. Tired is normal. Busy is normal. Change is normal. Being ready to handle it, sadly, isn't.

Tom Bennett teaches at the Jo Richardson Community School in Essex and is director of the ResearchED conference

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