Go on, let them call you cuddly

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Morning Penny Ward." It's an angelic smile, and a wee twinkle in the eye. I do, of course (with an angelic smile and a wee twinkle), tell him off. He doesn't mind.

Actually I suspect a bit of it comes from the fact that I taught at his last school. He only lasted there a few weeks, but maybe he likes to have that bit of history. There has been a lot of water under his bridge since then. He knows he is being cheeky, but he is enjoying being familiar.

I am on first name terms with my doctor, dentist and lawyer. I am on first name terms with the electrician, postman and bar staff in my local. My kids call my friends by their first names - and if they are so awed by an adult that they don't use their first names, they don't call them anything at all.

So why do teachers cling to anachronistic habits? When I was wee, I'd go home and say that "Sir" wanted a note. I didn't know his name. Yes, it would be more informal if we dispensed with such formalities. Can't really imagine the conversation . . . "Are you eating?" "No." "No, what?" "No, Penny." It becomes ludicrous. But maybe those kinds of conversation are ludicrous.

I'm quite happy to have a no eating rule in the class. It's better for their teeth and guts, it saves litter and it saves that mind-bendingly, non-attentive period when a child's concentration is focused on how to get the sweetie in their mouths without detection. But isn't it just as easy to simply ask them to empty their mouths? And would they feel the same need to flout rules if they felt on more friendly terms?

I have seen a lot of good teachers and a few bad ones. The good ones would still maintain discipline, would still create a good, positive working ethos and have kids working well - even if they did put their hand up, and ask: "Peter, can I get help?" In fact, children might find it easier to ask if they greeted their teachers as they greet any other adult - by their first names. Bad teachers need to look to more than how they are called to improve the situation.

Times are changing. Society is changing. Schools are changing. We are no longer training up the troops to march out to be shot, or providing fodder for factory floors. We still pretend that if a child does their best, they will do well when they leave school. It's only when our own kids leave and try to find work that we realise how hard that is.

So maybe we should be acknowledging that we should be doing more than seeking exam passes, and that social skills and easy communications are important nowadays? If we want kids to stay on and do their best, we need to make them feel welcome.

Would it be the end of the world if we climbed off our high horses?

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