Student talk

13th February 2009 at 00:00

I had a Donald Rumsfeld moment the other day, as I pondered my next school placement and the $50million question: what makes a good primary school teacher? It dawned on me that I am now half-way through my course and, in theory, I should be acting and thinking more like a proper teacher.

It was then I realised that the former United States Defence Secretary had a point when he said: "There are known knowns... We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."

It summed up my existential angst perfectly. How exactly does a proper teacher act and think? What should I know right now? Will there be custard creams in the new staffroom?

I suspect that while there are things I know I know, there are plenty of things that I don't know I don't know, such as, what makes the perfect teacher. My "ideal" keeps shifting with the changing tides of course modules, buffeted by theoretical flotsam and jetsam.

After studying inclusion, for example, I decided that a good primary teacher needs the patience of a saint, a philosopher's intellect and the intuition and cunning of a diplomat. (This surely is not too much to ask of a profession that gets such good holidays.)

I reasoned that these personal qualities would help with pupil discipline (the student teacher's holy grail) by creating peaceful and productive classrooms. However, if, as in my case, they are in short supply, the best available alternative would be to use Golden Time.

During a recent tutorial, Golden Time was the ONLY example of positive behaviour management that students reported having seen while out in schools. It was argued that it might not work with an 11-year-old who has just told you to get stuffed and cares nothing for school, and even less about losing five minutes of free play on a Friday.

Someone suggested sending the child into the corridor instead. "Not allowed, he might do a runner and you could be sued," explained the tutor. What about keeping him back at playtime? "No, that would be denying his human rights." What about detention? "Not allowed without parental consent." OK. Golden Time it is then.

And so we were back to Mr Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns". No one really knows the definitive answer to challenging behaviour and student teachers must accept this and hope that they will know what they need to know when the time comes... if you know what I mean.

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