Saturday, February 23, 2008

Students tell teachers to fuck off in England

There’s a lot of advice out there on discipline:

“Set out your expectations.”

“Don’t smile until Christmas”

“Don’t use sarcasm”

“Establish clear routines.”

“Keep the students occupied” (Is this the same way as France was occupied from 1939-44?)

A lot of it is good. Some of it is dire. But most of it won’t get you past the front gate of your challenging (i.e. badly run) comprehensive because most of it is based on two false assumptions:

Assumption No 1: Students will acknowledge your instructions and can, with enough effort and attention, be made to obey them.

Assumption No 2: Once you have the class understanding how they are meant to behave you have dealt with the problem.

These assumptions are made because those adopting them believe that discipline is an organisational problem. This is illustrated by the use of terms such as “behaviour management” and “classroom management.” Missing from this is the realities of the contemporary classroom. You could come up with a system of identifying and punishing all crimes and misdemeanours, you can establish all your expectations and rules with the class perfectly, but you still have to face the “Fuck-Off” factor. This occurs at the point where a child in a classroom in which the teacher has established control realises that they are unable to do whatever they like and have a great danger of having to learn. They cannot play with their mobile phones. They cannot continue the conversation/football game/wrestling match/unfinished bullying from break. They cannot play on their PSP. They cannot just put their head down and have a nap. They cannot be the centre of attention for everything they say. They are confronted with the replacement of their social world with the academic world, a world they don’t control.

And they tell the teacher to “Fuck off”.

Or they do something equivalent. They walk out of the classroom to play with their friends in the corridor. They do everything necessary to stop teaching or to get sent out. They call the teacher “pathetic” or “sad” (or “smelly” or “bad breath” or “gay”). Simply put they refuse to be a part of the learning classroom.

It’s what happens here that makes the real difference between schools. If you get good enough at classroom management, have the back up, and don’t try anything too different in your lessons you can get round almost every sort of behaviour in every school, up until the point where the Fuck-Off Factor comes into play. Advice on discipline assumes a classroom can become a place where learning takes place. It doesn’t take account of the fact that some children cannot tolerate a classroom where learning takes place. This isn’t a case of the natural disposition of the child, this is the deeply entrenched belief that they are the most important person in the universe, that learning is unimportant, and any failure to appreciate those two facts (which are acknowledged for 90% of their school day) is a form of malicious bullying.

What should happen is this: The child is made to leave the school and never return. No other public service allows users of the service to abusively decline the service and stop others making use of it without consequence. Doctors don’t treat people who are hitting them. The police can arrest people that abuse or obstruct them as they carry out their duties. Abusive customers are asked to leave shops, buses and bars.

Yet somehow, in the one place that does the most to set future expectations about how to behave the emphasis is on keeping them receiving the same service at the same outlet they’ve just rejected. What does happen about these kids follows this spectrum:

At best:

They are excluded for a short length of time.

Their parents are contacted.

They are told off by a more senior member of staff.

At worst:

They swap classes (“it was a personality clash”).


Nothing is done about the student and the teacher is blamed for their poor relationships with the student.

You don’t understand modern teaching until you acknowledge the fact that teachers are told to fuck off and many, many times at many, many schools absolutely nothing happens.

Apologists for this state of affairs love to make excuses for the students. If students don’t like their situation then, of course, they behave badly. If you do believe this (and I know some people who read this do) then I have a challenge for you. Every time you are in a situation you don’t like during the next two weeks, just tell the nearest authority figure (or failing that the most responsible person in he room) to fuck off. Whether it’s a traffic warden, a shop assistant, a taxi-driver, your spouse, your children, your mother, your boss, a policeman, a bouncer, a bar man, an air steward, a magistrate, a high court judge, an OFSTED inspector, a council official, whoever they are, tell them to fuck off. If you can do that for two weeks without wrecking your life and possibly ending up in prison, then I will consider the possibility that the students who do that for five years of permanent education are just the victims of unfortunate circumstances behaving in a perfectly reasonable way.

Any takers?
Scenes from the battleground teaching blog about teaching in the UK (United Kingdom).

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