Hunt is on to beat the pack

17th January 1997 at 00:00
Alex Reeve's dogged determination pays dividends in the classroom

I jog and I often encounter the scourge of every jogger - the dog. One dog is OK. Four, five or six which are running as a pack are not. They need to practise their hunting skills and joggers are good targets.

The encounter often follows a similar pattern. The jogger observes the pack. He hesitates but he continues. The dogs move apart. The jogger runs nervously through the pack and one dog snaps at his heels as he passes. He feels a shiver down his spine. He turns. Another dog is now snapping at his heels.

The jogger turns again and steps back. Then from behind him, more barking. The jogger panics and looks to escape; a side step, a half trip, a sprint and he is safe. He breathes a sigh of relief. Another time, another place and he might have been torn to pieces. The encounter reminds us that we inhabit a world of predator and prey.

Enter the classroom. The teacher has issued a command for the children to be silent. There is tension in the air. One child whispers to his neighbour, "Can I borrow your rubber?" "I said, 'Be quiet!'" Another child in another part of the room coughs. The teacher turns and looks at the child. The child meets his gaze. The teacher is suspicious of the cough yet feels unable to challenge it. He looks away. Another child stands up and sharpens his pencil. "Sit down!" "I was only sharpening my pencil." Another child coughs and the teacher walks towards the culprit. From behind him, another whisper, another cough and a child walks across the room.

The teacher shouts, "Will you sit down?" The voice has a higher pitch and is less commanding than before. Conversations now take place all round the classroom. Some children are grinning. The teacher is shouting. Nobody is listening. The teacher is on the run. The children are enjoying practising their hunting skills. We are reminded again that we inhabit a world of predator and prey.

Consider the jogger. He is the stronger and more dominant animal. He has a larger brain yet he almost lost the encounter. He started losing from the moment he hesitated. Had he looked at the pack, decided upon his route and run straight through, a dog might have snapped at his heels and pursued him for a bit. After a few seconds the dog would have slowed down, stopped and then stared at the jogger continuing his purposeful run into the distance. The jogger would have felt a sense of victory.

Consider the teacher. He is stronger and wiser than the children he teaches. He has greater experience yet he lost the encounter. Had he looked at his charges, decided upon the activity they were to be engaged in, and purposefully directed the children, things would have turned out differently. A child might have whispered, "Can I borrow your rubber?" Another child might have coughed or scraped his chair. He might have giggled and called out.

But after a short time, sensing no response, he would have settled down and engaged in the activity being directed by the teacher. The teacher would have had some positive feeling of carrying the group forward.

If the children win the encounter, they will have little interest in pleasing the teacher and are unlikely to concentrate on the subject matter. If the teacher is the victor then the children will accept him or her as their leader. They will wish to please the teacher and will acquire an interest in the subject matter. We should not be deluded - it's a jungle out there.

Alex Reeve is a biology and physics teacher in Essex

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