Time to help those who suffer the most

6th February 2009 at 00:00

In my 34 years as a teacher in Tayside, I have witnessed a steady increase in the number of unacceptable breaches of discipline by a minority of aggressive and mindless pupils, often setting out completely to disrupt the learning and teaching of others.

All teachers and management know the culprits, but what sanctions are in place to deal with this hard-core, disruptive minority? Sadly, none. And it is probably for that reason that Dundee teacher Mike Barile was driven to what has been deemed extreme behaviour, which led to his suspension for assaulting two pupils.

Bile rises in my throat when I read Sheriff Charles Macnair's statement that "the assaults were minor" and had Barile not been a teacher, he did not think his actions would have been "subject to criminal prosecution".

I had not realised there were different laws for teachers, laws which discriminate against those who seem to be given the multifarious tasks which teachers have to perform in today's society where nobody, including parents, seems to want to take responsibility for these disruptive pupils.

So why has Barile gone from being villain to martyr in such a short time? I believe most teachers join the profession because of a two-fold passion: a love of their subject and a desire to shape young minds. I should, therefore, be ready to vilify Barile and be satisfied by his castigation.

Not so. When I started teaching, I thought it my duty to educate my pupils and prepare them academically and socially for their future lives. I have tried to make lessons imaginative and pertinent. But how frustrating is it to have to cope with the barrage of "ey've no got a pencil; "do ya hae a sharpener?"; "eh canna dae this"; "can I go to the toilet?"; "he keeps annoying me"; "ehm no daen that"; "you canna mak me".

As teachers have been forced to take more and more responsibility for results, I believe we have disempowered pupils. Poor results are no longer the burden of the poor performer. They are perceived indicators that the teacher could do better or that the head of department could invent yet another strategy to improve results.

Nonsense. In my early days, the pupils' faces would be ashen in the run-up to exams; they would do extra revision at home and appear nervous about their chances of success. Now we provide study support after school where we try desperately to drum up numbers to help raise attainment.

Is it surprising in this environment, where the teacher is the focal point of pressure from pupil, parent and management, that many have reached breaking point? It is easy to see why the morale of teachers is at an all-time low, why Mike Barile behaved as he did and why the public recently rallied in Dundee to support him. His actions may have been extreme, but so is the pressure.

I appeal to the General Teaching Council for Scotland and to Dundee City's new education boss Jim Collins: "Gee's a break, Jimmy!". Return Barile to his chosen profession but, more significantly, let's get something done about the root causes of this problem and help those who suffer most: the good teachers, the good parents and the vast majority of good pupils.

The author is a secondary teacher.

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