Power to the pupils;Talkback

26th June 1998 at 01:00
During my own school days and my early years in teaching, I met and worked with many teachers who protected their modest teaching skills by exercising the "fear factor". Many were legendary for their individualised brutality. Our reaction then was to laugh in secret about their exploits, while endeavouring to keep away from the most notorious offenders. Parents, by and large, took no interest in school discipline; it was almost considered a fact of British educational life that in order to receive a good education one had to endure the eccentricity and mild depravity of certain members of staff.

For much of my 25-year career, teachers have enjoyed the upper hand. Enough measures were in place to ensure they would be successful in any dispute with child or parent. The comparatively recent introduction of education as a quality-controlled service, with parents the customer, has changed this dramatically.

Teachers' powers of control are now very limited. In view of this, the parameters for teaching styles have been greatly reduced. There is now only one way to teach and that is through building up a friendly, caring partnership between class and teacher. This may involve a great deal of hard work and patience, but once achieved the job of teaching becomes far less stressful as corporate responsibility towards learning develops in the classroom.

Criticism of young people and their attitudes and behaviour seem to dominate discussions on education these days. Personally, I find so much good in the majority of young people that I believe this argument is flawed. What has changed is the emphasis from the power of the teacher to the power of the parent and, ultimately, the child. This does not mean the beginning of anarchy in our classrooms, more a call for a re-alignment of teaching skills. Teachers who are able to do this can still enjoy a rewarding and satisfying profession; those who refuse to relinquish the barriers between pupil and teacher, often constructed through the "fear factor", are in for an unhappy time.

Steve Devrell teaches in Solihull

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