Understanding bad behaviour

24th November 2000 at 00:00
IN HIS article "Your pupils' esteem depends on you, too" (TESS, November 3) which purports to support teachers, Alan McLean neatly manages to shift blame for bad behaviour from bad pupils to bad teachers. He confirms what I have long suspected: most educational psychologists and behaviour management experts are deluding themselves.

Obviously, it cannot be denied that a teacher's classroom management and personality have an effect on pupils but more often than not it is the teacher and the rest of the class who suffer at the hands and tongues of the disruptive pupil determined to violate classroom codes. Why should the victims share the responsibility with the perpetrator of the crime?

Must they be seen as suffering from low self-esteem or desirous of revenge if they want bad pupils to be punished?

It is fashionable nowadays to focus on positive behaviour. Thus the disruptive pupil is praised if he behaves normally and excuses are made for his bad behaviour. There may well be difficult family circumstances, a personality clash with a teacher or he may be studying a subject he does not like. These concessions are granted without highlighting his personal failings (just as Mr McLean decrees) and thus the child is allowed to justify to himself his bad behaviour and is given an excuse to continue to misbehave.

How can the child change himself and become a good pupil if he does not fully understand the root cause of his problems at school - that he is being bad? To tell a child he is bad is givin him a chance to be good. But it seems the words bad, unacceptable or poor have been expunged from a teacher's vocabulary.

Most parents do not know what goes on in schools. If their child is a good pupil and tries to behave well and work hard, he is often fighting against tremendous peer pressure. If he reports misbehaviour, he will be called a "grass". The parents of the bad pupil will not be made fully aware of how their child's behaviour is ruining the education of dozens of other children, only that their offspring is "causing concern". Quite often these parents run rings around school authorities by asserting the rights of their children whom they are encouraged to see as being in need of support not punishment.

It seems to me that the Alan McLeans are afraid of telling the truth. They are therefore contributing to the evident decline in moral and educational standards. Of course statistics can be provided to show there is no such decline but the ordinary person just has to look and listen to know that there is.

No matter how good the teacher, a bad pupil can disrupt the education of an entire class - and remember, your child could be in the same class for more than seven years. The rights of the individual are deemed superior to the rights of the group. The whole philosophy behind the positive behaviour management and social inclusion advocated by Mr. McLean has grown up because there is nowhere for excluded pupils to go.

Joanna Mitchell

Moray Park, Doune, Perthshire

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