When Sir acts like one of the lads

26th February 2010 at 00:00
Male teachers who think bravado is useful in class actually encourage pupils' disrespect and rowdiness, study claims

Many male teachers play the lad during lesson time, giving rowdy pupils an overgrown laddish example to follow, according to new research.

But this only encourages teenage boys to act up during other teachers' lessons, according to Carolyn Jackson of Lancaster University.

Dr Jackson interviewed 30 teachers in six secondaries to find out how they perceived laddishness and laddish behaviour among pupils.

Most teachers described laddishness as pack behaviour: boys would regularly mock staff, calling out sexist, homophobic or innuendo-laden remarks and making a public show of disrespect.

"You very rarely get a lad on their own," one teacher commented. "He has to have his mates to play to. It's always an audience thing with lads."

Boys earned their laddish credentials by publicly rejecting academic work. One teacher talked about a boy who regularly messed around in class, and then, equally regularly, returned afterwards and secretly handed in his homework.

Another teacher said: "I suppose that's what laddishness is, really - it's showing off in a way ... You know, 'I can do this. I can disrupt the lesson ... I can run faster, I can score goals, whatever.'"

However, most male interviewees believed that their maleness gave them an inherent ability to see through such behaviour.

For example, Mr Garner, one of the teachers interviewed, talked about the importance of his rugby-player physique in winning boys' respect and proving he was one of the lads.

"I have a bit of a presence about myself," he said, "and so they try to fit in with me, and I can fit in with them as well. I can relate to them and talk to them a little bit."

Another teacher, Mr Lee, described himself as "one of the gang". However, Dr Jackson pointed out that Mr Lee is a 50-something teacher, and it is unlikely that the boys themselves would consider him one of their gang.

Most men also assumed that classroom laddishness was a bigger problem for female staff than it was for them. Women, many said, were inherently incapable of relating to such boys.

"The men understand it better and just chew it off," one male teacher commented. Another added: "No messing around and attempting to appeal to their better nature."

However, even though the men all claimed that their female colleagues struggled to cope with laddish behaviour, they did not attempt to address the problem.

One female teacher described her laddish colleague as: "Like the biggest lad in the class ... But it doesn't actually stop the laddishness. It actually makes it even worse, because then you're an idol."

From the male teachers' perspective, such an approach is successful: they are able to gain the lads' attention and establish classroom control.

But Dr Jackson argues that chalkface laddishness actually exacerbates pupil rowdiness. The boys' lack of respect for authority is never challenged. So, rather than highlighting any intrinsic differences between male and female teachers, the teachers' behaviour merely perpetuates a longstanding problem.

"Laddish teachers can make life more difficult for colleagues who will not, or cannot, be laddish," Dr Jackson said. "Rather than working together, teachers may be working against each other."


Recognise that some of the current strategies merely reinforce, rather than address, pupils' laddish behaviour

Resist any strategies that reinforce gender stereotypes - for example, assuming that all boys are interested in sport

Similarly, avoid undermining female teachers in an effort to relate to laddish pupils

Avoid patronising teachers who struggle to relate to laddish pupils: teachers are not to blame for the behaviour of their pupils

Be aware that acting like a lad with pupils rarely convinces them that schoolwork is cool

Remember that there are no quick fixes: any successful strategies will be long-term, requiring time and commitment from all staff.

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