What keeps me awake at night - No more name-calling. It's time to act like adults

27th January 2012 at 00:00

Children: They are a mixed bunch. Some are kind, generous, capable of working constructively and imaginatively, and full of surprises. Others are insecure and, in a vain effort to make themselves feel better, call each other names.

"Abbie said I was a moron 'cause I couldn't spell."

"OK. So why is Abbie crying all over her short writing task?"

"I said I knew how to spell 'lesbian slag' and that's what she is."

Typical, isn't it? And exhausting. So when you stagger into the staffroom, an opportunity to let off a bit of steam is just what you need. No doubt this happens in most jobs. Sometimes there is so much steam in there you could draw a whole morning assembly of angry faces in the condensation on the windows, for children aren't the only ones who name-call.

"Billy in Year 4 - complete space cadet."

"Harry - he's as thick as ..."

"Tobias - what a muppet."

"Nathan - he's got to be on the spectrum."

The consequences for children of this kind of name-calling by teachers are well documented. By word of mouth in staffrooms and corridors, poor reputations arrive, already wrapped, in the next class before the child in question even returns from holiday. A tight little straitjacket of preconceptions and expectations ensures that any questionable future actions on their part will be diagnosed in the light of past labels.

The teacher doesn't come out of it unscathed, either. There are consequences for anyone who fails to resist the pressure to join in with free-flowing name-calling because joining in and learning the lingo, as we know, is part of being a colleague. The language of the curriculum, references to data, the endless acronyms, the epithets applied to children - all of these define membership of the teaching community.

Unfortunately, it turns children into the enemy. Awkward children are seen as making the job difficult, but we need to remember that they are the job. Once you start thinking in this way, things can only spiral downwards. Classes become nightmares, Mondays are full of dread, teachers count the weeks until the next half-term break, the staffroom becomes full of people suffering from stress and the joy goes out of the whole experience.

Of course, there are short-term gains. Name-calling enables the teacher to disown responsibility for the poor progress of those particular denigrated children. "Don't question my teaching, the boy is slow."

Teachers: they are a mixed bunch. Some are kind, generous, capable of working constructively and imaginatively, and full of surprises. Others are more insecure. Defensive, they call children names. In a vain effort to make themselves feel better, they make themselves feel worse.

The writer is a junior-school teacher in Somerset. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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