Everyone is an idiot except me

8th November 2012 at 16:04

Tom Bennett

Tom Bennett is a man who believes that the beginning of wisdom lies in understanding that you know nothing. In other words, he knows nothing, and he knows it. Every week he'll be chasing his own tail or shouting at the laptop about some damn fool idea in education, or else he'll be writing about classrooms, students, or why teaching is the most important job in the world.

This week: Why do we hold other people to higher standards of account than we do ourselves?

"If idiots could fly, the sky would be like an airport."? Laura Davenport

You know what would make schools run perfectly? Taking all the idiots out and replacing them with sensible people. People who know how things really run. People just like you, in other words. Wouldn't that be dandy? But you might have spotted a flaw in this theory: everyone thinks everyone else is an idiot. This is the human condition. When someone does something wrong, or forgets to call a parent, or misses your name off a list, they're morons. But when we do the same. well, there's a reason for it. A perfectly sensible one. It couldn't be helped. We're only human. We're busy. We're juggling too many balls, spinning plates, possibly simultaneously.

This is true in every tribe, trail and travel humanity finds itself in. When you make a grammatical error, it's a simple slip; when someone else does it, you suspect them of illiteracy. Schools are full of idiots, apparently. If only other people did their jobs properly, then yours would be much easier.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the often polar divide between senior staff and the troops. I've addressed audiences composed of SLT who claim that the biggest barrier to good behaviour in schools is teachers not running their classes properly. Would you like to have a guess what audiences composed of rank and file teachers said when asked the same question? Would you be amazed if I told you the answer was, `senior staff fannying about in their offices, having meetings with each other and doing bugger all in general'? I suspect you would not.

Neither group would recognise the other. The Catch-22 runs like this: Senior staff say it's not their job to police and run classrooms and they can only act when teachers record and report poor behaviour. Meanwhile, teachers say their job is made impossible by SLT who vanish whenever they're needed, or don't do call-outs, or only appear when Haley's Comet peeks his cheeky nose around Uranus.

I have a controversial solution. Let me don my loin cloth and affect the guise of Gandhi when I say that behaviour management is the responsibility of every staff member in the school; no teacher or SLT is a single lonely atom in an empty universe. If a teacher doesn't lay down boundaries, and then enforce them personally, no amount of remote control will create a civil classroom for them.

Senior staff - who were once mortals themselves, let us never forget - need to remember what it's like to be new, insecure, and unsupported. They must be visible, consistent, and respected. The kids don't need another tall buddy in a cheap suit, they need boundaries.

That said, senior staff have more authority and power so the burden of their office is greater. Good discipline at school emerges from the undercarriage of the school management and trickles down, like a golden bounty for all. It starts from the top and it comes from the bottom.

But what if you were the only idiot? No, that's impossible. Put it from your mind.

Read Tom's previous blogs;


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today