As an experienced ex-teacher (or should that be "ex-experienced teacher"?) I can confirm that recent publicity about ill-discipline in our schools is justified. There was a television programme a couple of weeks ago which followed a lady supply teacher round from school to school and recorded the inattention, rudeness, arrogance and belligerence she faced every day. It was both horrifying and deeply depressing. Admittedly she wasn't a very dynamic teacher, and she was on a hiding to nothing because she wasn't an established figure in any of the schools and was sometimes teaching subjects in which she was not expert. But I think a strange lady ought to be able to walk into any classroom and be treated with a certain respect. That's just good manners, isn't it?
True, there are still lots of schools - many of them very ordinary primary schools and comprehensives - where the children are reasonable, well-behaved and likeable. That applies to almost all of the schools in the county where I live, I'm glad to say. But in the cities it's a different story. There's a real problem here, and any steps to solve it should be applauded, I'd have thought.
But the National Union of Teachers has other views, it seems.
Dexter Hutt who is the executive head of three difficult Birmingham schools has recently introduced "isolation rooms" for unruly pupils whose crimes have included threatening teachers and trying to set one woman's hair on fire. He says "For some students, social interaction is more important than work. If they are socially isolated, they miss that outlet". Pupils spend a day or more at a time in the isolation room, are allowed out only for toilet breaks, have their meals delivered there, and have to study from worksheets.
It all makes sense to me. I don't know whether it will work, but it must be worth a try. But already there are voices raised against the idea - by the teachers themselves. The staff at one of the three schools have protested that the idea is "draconian", while the National Union of Teachers says "with a lot of pupils it escalates the problem".
It's no wonder, is it, that teachers can't control their pupils? They've already had almost all their sanctions taken away from them so that they are powerless to penalise bad behaviour. They have to operate in many areas without the support of parents who encourage their offspring to rebel. And when someone thinks of an idea that might help, they're too lily-livered to give it a chance because it's "draconian" (and what about setting a teacher's hair on fire? That's not draconian, I suppose?). Of course, some of them objected to the television programme as well - they said it was unfair to film the poor little kiddy-winks without their knowledge, even though their faces and identities were obscured.
Teaching was a reasonable job when I first started, but I wouldn't dream of doing it now, and actively discouraged my own children from even thinking of it as a career. You're overwhelmed with paperwork, hedged about with rules, regulations and procedures that are frequently unintelligible, tested and moderated and mentored and appraised until there's nothing left of you, the hours are ridiculous when you take into account the stacks of marking and preparation you are required to take home at the end of the day, the kids can't keep their mouths shut for more than ten seconds at a time and you're too knackered to appreciate the long holidays. And to top it all, you have to work alongside people who don't have the balls to do anything about it for fear of being "draconian".
(I just counted up. In the course of a long and reasonably successful teaching career, the worst behaviour I have ever seen was in two private schools, and the best was in a state comprehensive school and a state primary school. I have no explanation for this. Interesting though …)
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