With mobiles and students, the silent setting is best

19th October 2012 at 01:00


After last month's debacle over student teacher placements, we've been joined - at last - by a number of trainees here at Greenfield Academy.

It is always refreshing to see the noble enthusiasms of young people coming into the profession; but I do wish they would dress a little more appropriately. We have three males, only one of whom bothers to wear a tie, and the females aren't much better, with both of them looking as if they are ready for a Saturday night on the town, rather than a day imparting knowledge unto youth.

Maybe I'm just getting a little long in the tooth - although I could see from Frank O'Farrell's lascivious expression that his attention wasn't entirely focused on the learning outcomes that Nadia and Melissa were discussing at lunchtime, so goodness knows how their hormonal adolescent pupils are going to cope.


The problems associated with mobile phones in class continue to irritate and I have reminded 1N that we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding mobiles during lessons. Needless to say, Samuel Smyth (a clever little boy who is generating a revival in the fortunes of the school's Scripture Union) has raised the issue of emergency messages from home, but I have pointed out that zero tolerance means zero tolerance, and that phones should not be consulted under any circumstances.

He pursed his lips in acquiescent mode, then made great play of switching off his phone, while urging other members of the SU - if not the rest of the class - that they "submit to a greater authority".

Which, to their credit, they did.


Frank O'Farrell has photocopied (and enlarged) a recent headline from a national newspaper and placed it on the staffroom noticeboard. It says: "Silence is Golden in Class!" and the appended report goes on to explain the results of a research project by a woman called Helen Lees, which suggests that silent classrooms might have a beneficial effect on learning.

"My God!" Frank was expounding as I entered the staffroom: "It reminds me of Basil Fawlty wondering if Sybil could go on Mastermind. Specialist subject: stating the bleeding obvious!

"Listen to this," he jabbed a finger at the wall: "this researcher has spent God knows how much time and the Devil knows how much money to tell us that silence in the classroom may improve behaviour and exam results. I don't believe it! I just don't believe it!"

"Hang on, Victor," I chided him: "Remember what my English tutor told me at college: there is such a thing as `productive noise', and ."

"Hah!" he interrupted me: "That's as may be, Morris, but I've always thought it was a dubious claim made by teachers who couldn't control their classes and reading this claptrap just reinforces that view.

"Listen to this," he peered closely at the noticeboard and quoted from the report's section distinguishing between "weak" and "strong" silence: "Weak silence has been used in the classroom for a long time, but traditionally this weak form harnesses silence as an oppressive tool, whereby children are punished or controlled through the process of enforced noise cessation ."

"And your point is?" I queried.

"My point is that this woman is looking through the wrong end of the bloody telescope. Of course we use silence as an oppressive tool. If they're quiet, then they, and the rest of their classmates, have a damned sight better chance of learning than when they're in the middle of the Tower of bloody Babel!"

I'd love to put Frank and Helen Lees in a room together. Preferably, a padded one.


Our students received a visit from their course tutor this afternoon, an event that offered enlightenment - to me, at any rate - of the training quality on offer at our country's leading pedagogical establishments.

"So, where did you teach before going into teacher education?" I asked the astonishingly young tutor in charge of our students.

"Well, I haven't actually had a permanent post yet," she admitted. "But I've done a lot of supply, and ."

"I'm sorry?" I queried. "You've not been a principal teacher or even a permanent ."

"Nope!" she replied. "But when I saw this job advertised, I reckoned I could do it. Apart from anything else, I can certainly empathise with the students over their job prospects."

I wished her all the best, and shook my head in despair.


Sam Smyth has privately thanked me for my stance on mobile phones: "It's certainly put a halt to the bullying that SU members were receiving," he informed me today. "If our phones aren't on, we can't receive the threats about what will happen if we continue attending SU."

"But that's appalling! What if ."

"Not really," he shrugged. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake," he sighed.

Unfortunately, my credibility with Sam was severely tested during this afternoon's lesson with 1N when my mobile rang out. It was my wife, reminding me to get fish for tea, but I managed to make my reply sound as if it was much more serious than that.

Although, from the text that I found on my desk at 3.30pm, I don't think Sam was fooled. It said: "Matthew 23:3 - All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not." I think I've been sussed.

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