Run the rugged men ragged with targets

4th April 2008 at 01:00
Should we do more to keep the Army out of schools, as the NUT motioned at its conference last week? Absolutely. Many of us on the male wing of the profession have had quite enough of these irksomely muscular, rugged-looking soldiers marching in year after year, always offering so stark and cruel a contrast to the usual version of the man species on parade around here.

The NUT will therefore find plenty of male teacher sympathisers. But although the motion was passed, they cannot hope to win universal support among the profession.

I know I am trivialising an issue for more serious debate elsewhere, but let's get real. A significant proportion of fully unionised female colleagues on our staff cannot wait for that off-timetable week in the summer, when a few young soldiers in t-shirts storm in to run a "fitness day" for the Year 9s.

Such is the allure that even the seemingly ugliest of military mugs somehow receives that elusive female seal of approval. It doesn't begin to seem fair.

Darwinian natural selection theory thus offers a perfectly obvious reason why some of us will back the move to keep those irresistible Forces away. But perhaps it is now time to fight off such negative and primitive thoughts whenever "Tommy" is in town. We must stop folding our arms indignantly and denying the insecurities within. It just makes us look ridiculous. Let us consider instead what we can give the Army, rather than continue to worry what it might give some of our female colleagues.

Why don't we troubled male teachers start to repay the Army's kind visit by occasionally going out to visit them? Maybe we can offer them some of our own professional expertise. One area where the military seems woefully behind schools is in formative teaching and learning strategies.

Perhaps we could formally observe a Sergeant Major in full voice on the parade ground to see if he is up to date with the more progressive methods of learning embodied in Assessment for Learning.

When, for instance, he is inspecting the troops, does he still simply bawl them out in an unhelpful, old-fashioned way, or does he now think to advise those underachieving privates on exactly how they can improve for next time - target-setting, personalised learning, that kind of thing?

Similarly, has the Sergeant Major thought to introduce a little more peer- and self-assessment into the uniform inspection? Has he considered more open-ended questioning and allowed plenty of time for his subordinates to construct a response.

Or does he still continue his old habit of immediately barking out answers to his own questions: "Why? I'll tell you why, you miserable little ...".

And when it comes to motivating the group, does he remember the golden rule: three positive comments for every negative one?

"Where was the learning?" you must ask of him in your feedback. After this, any barriers between you will surely disappear.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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