Mind your language, please

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Anybody tuning into the annual congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers'

Association might have been forgiven for thinking that "the lunatics had been let loose in the asylum" (page four). For once, we do not refer to the description reserved by scornful teachers for the less biddable of their charges, but to the scornful teachers themselves. The remarks about young "nutters" and "morons" must have brought despair to those who want teaching to be seen as a profession intent on attracting the brightest and the best.

Talking up teaching, urged by the Education Minister at another weekend union conference, could not have seemed farther away.

We do not, of course, suggest that the SSTA should be equated with an asylum, place of refuge though that image conjures up. Nor do we minimise the behavioural problems pupils increasingly present in schools. And teacher perspectives, however they are couched, are a reality that cannot be ignored. But any teacher who regards pupils as "nutters" or "morons" sends out a clear signal to which youngsters will only too readily respond, even those who do not come to school with chaotic backgrounds. Alan McKenzie, the SSTA's president, has not proved to be a recruiting sergeant for his profession in the past week.

But he did make one valid point, which others would do well to take on board in these days of continuing professional development. With some commendable honesty, Mr McKenzie admitted he was no inspirational teacher, merely an "ordinary Joe". While he may be selling himself short, this is a reminder that the reformers who look for teachers and pupils to deliver ever more exceptional performance must take account of the realities faced by every profession - not every practitioner is an inspiration. But the least they can do, particularly if they are in an influential position, is not to fuel notions of the worst tabloid excesses depicting schools as "blackboard jungles".

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