As relevant as asking for a pie in French

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
You know this kid

He's in every school. Smart enough, but a lazy under-achiever. He is rude, wise enough to know when to become cloyingly well-behaved and, to your horror, he is planning to come back for a fifth year.

Every so often, you see the decent kid in him - away from classmates, away from anything involving school work. And that's when I wonder whether we have let him down: whether the reason he is such an obnoxious kid is because we, as teachers, have never offered him the curriculum he needed.

Not motivated enough to really produce what they are capable of, kids like him rapidly sink to the bottom of the class. Their jotters full of unintelligible scrawl, these guys adopt an attitude of not caring. They sneer, smirk and answer back so that, in a rapid spiral, teachers lose any sympathy and war is declared. A lose-lose war, but war nonetheless.

By third year, they (both girls and boys) should be learning the rudiments of car mechanics, bricklaying, path laying, the basics of plumbing and electrics. They should be taught how to care for and amuse a baby, and how a small child's brain develops - so that when they become parents, they at least will have some idea about bringing the child up.

And while all this is going on, they could be taught how to have good relationships, with parents, bosses, teachers and partners, and where to get help quickly when things go wrong. Meanwhile, their folks also need some support - because these kids are hard to handle at home too.

Who made the decision that the majority of pupils continue with a foreign language in third year? We need lifeskills, relationship skills and ICT skills, not how to ask for a pie in French.

We need to up these kids' self-esteem, and teachers everywhere should not have to put up with their atrocious behaviour. But maybe the way to improve that is to create and offer a relevant and enjoyable curriculum.

They will come back to academic work when they see the need. Until then, let's stop wasting both their and our lives by trying to teach what they definitely have no intention of learning.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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