Off the shelf

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Long ago, Mark, a 14-year-old pupil, became so angry at my correction of him that he mimed hitting me. As I stood over his desk, he drew back his fist and moved it in very slow motion to make gentle contact with my face. He was, presumably, sufficiently in control of himself to realise that he could not really hit me, and the mime must have seemed the next best option.

To say Mark was difficult is a ludicrous understatement. He brought lessons to a halt. He annoyed other pupils and their parents. He took up hours of staff time. I would guess that his presence alone had a measurable effect on the GCE scores of up to 50 pupils. Never, though, was he suspended or excluded.

The problem of how to deal with disturbed boys and girls is the subject of Inclusion or Exclusion, a NASEN pamphlet from the organisation's SEN Policy Options Steering Group (Pounds 6 inc postage. NASEN Enterprises, 4 Amber Business Village, Amber Close, Tamworth B77 4RP). The title sums up the dilemma, and the issues are aired in three major contributions from John Bangs of the NUT, Peter Gray, a senior educational psychologist, and Dr Greg Richardson, a child psychiatrist. John Bangs expresses the current attitude to pupils such as Mark, "Those that argue that the individual rights of those pupils who are subject to exclusion are de facto rights which should receive the highest priority ignore the rights of other children in the school. "

Classroom discipline never came easily to me: I left college with no real insights into pupil behaviour. Sonia Burnard, in Developing Children's Behaviour in the Classroom (Pounds 13.95) writes that because behaviour management is not addressed in teacher education, "the trainee builds not on confidence and strategy but on failure and survival". This is an area, she argues, which cannot be left to the uncertainties of teaching practice - "bad habits as well as good are demonstrated and the student does not have the experience to be critical." She goes on to cover the whole field of behaviour management, displaying skill and insight in putting together the often elusive mix of theoretical analysis and practical help.

Rather different in approach, but also helpful, is an American book, The Caring Teacher's Guide to Discipline by Marylin E Gootman (Corwin Press Pounds 39.99 paperback Pounds 17.99). I applaud particularly her cautious approach to the giving of rewards. "The kind of rewards we give our students sends a message about what we value." So what about letting children off their homework? "If homework is important, then why should no homework be a reward? Either homework serves an educational purpose or it doesn't." The book is filled with this kind of wisdom.

Another Corwin Press book, 100 Motivators for Educators by Jo Ann Lordahl (Pounds 12.99) seeks also to offer wisdom, this time laid out so that each page starts with a quotation from another author or thinker. This is followed by a paragraph of commentary and then a single sentence "Affirmation".

Thus one page has a short quotation from a biography of Pearl Buck, describing her as a "woman of exceptional tenacity". The author expands this and offers an example, and the page is completed by the affirmation "In small and large ways I continue to prove to myself the value of exceptional tenacity."

The collection has, as you might expect, a rather transatlantic, Oprah Winfrey feel about it (one page actually starts with an Oprah quote) and there is rather a lot of emphasis on "fat and fiber", exercise, and healthy eating. To be fair, though, it is intended for dipping into, and it does make for some thoughtful moments. Had it been around when I was dealing with Mark, I might have turned to page eight, which ends with the affirmation "I always know exactly what to do next and easily do it."

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