That explains it…

My brother and sister-in-law came round for dinner last night.

After the usual catch-up and gossip, talk turned to work. We have a slight interest in each other’s jobs in the sense that we both have to deal with the badly behaved. She’s a criminal defence solicitor, so her ‘SMT’ have slightly more clout on poor behaviour than mine do.

Anyway, we discussed some of the miscreants we’ve come across since we last talked, and she was frankly horrified at some of the things I told her.

I mentioned that I’ve been verbally abused, threatened with physical violence and subject to bullying and name-calling at work. And I pointed out that this was just from the children. I told her how these things are allowed to continue, and how often a teacher is left with no defences and expected to cope. If the school management won’t dirty their hands with ensuring that unruly pupils are brought to heel, then frankly, there’s no hope of the classroom teachers maintaining discipline.

I explained that, all too often, a teacher is considered a failure simply because their class is ‘unteachable’. Any sensible person would quickly come to the conclusion that if children are throwing things in class, hurling abuse at one another and getting into fights, then the school clearly has a non-working discipline policy, coupled with children who clearly have no sense of how to behave.

But not so SMT.

In the world of SMT if a class misbehaves it is the teacher’s fault. It doesn’t matter if the problem children have been up all of the night before, if they’ve taken drugs and are clearly under the influence, or if they suffer mental health issues – the problem lies solely with the teacher.

Unfortunately, this emphasis has permeated down through the school, until it has become firmly lodged in the minds of the children themselves. Why didn’t Billy do his homework? Because the work you gave him was boring, Miss. And so it goes on. Conveniently ignore the fact that quadratic equations can rarely be considered ‘fun’, and that they are part of the syllabus, so in order to obtain a good grade Billy will need to show he can solve them. Obviously, if the teacher could somehow link those boring equations to something worthy of his time (like Minecraft) then possibly, just possibly, he might have attempted the first one. But only possibly. Clearly, because the teacher hasn’t done this, she is failing in her job to engage all the children in her class.

When Billy later fails his exams, he will be able to look back on his school years and consider how much better he might have done, if only his teacher had bothered to help him by making the work interesting.

In Billy’s world (and the world of SMT) it is the teacher’s duty to ensure that Billy’s life runs according to plan, irrespective of how much effort Billy puts into ruining all his chances.

Having left school with no qualifications, and no sense of discipline, where does Billy find himself? Well, if he’s unlucky, it’s in a cell talking to my sister-in-law.

As we were talking, she told me that things were now beginning to make sense. A number of cases that she defends involve people breaching their bail conditions and refusing to turn up to meetings with their caseworker on the probation service. The reasons behind this can be complex, and there are often genuine mitigating circumstances, but she said she has also noticed a trend in the excuses given by some of the younger defendants.

My sister-in -law said that she has wondered why so many of them seem to have a real problem with taking any responsibility for their own lives. One young lad said he didn’t go to meetings with his case worker because she ‘had funny teeth‘; another one didn’t like their case worker, far too many don’t go because they find it ‘boring‘.

Boring. The word that we encounter so many times in class. The word that allows children to find someone to blame for their own failings, whilst at the same time giving them the opportunity to demand something they find preferable. The word that, due to the mindset of SMT, allows teachers to be blamed for feral children in schools, because they are ‘not engaged’. The word that means that children no longer have the mental capacity to see that they really are responsible for their own actions, and that one day this might just catch up with them.

Apparently, one youth decided to argue with the judge when given a custodial sentence. He said that it wasn’t fair and he wasn’t going to do it (although his language was rather more fruity!). The judge then added an extra five days to the sentence for contempt of court. At this point, and much to the amusement of everyone there, the youth then jumped up in the dock and shouted that he couldn’t f***ing do that to him – he wouldn’t do the extra days, and the judge couldn’t make him.

It appeared to have completely passed him by that he was already in custody, so any custodial sentence wasn’t optional!

It is a fact that too many young people are ending up with criminal records. It is also a fact that too many of these go through school being pandered to, told that their disaffection is not their fault, but instead a result of someone in authority failing to do their jobs properly.

It is worrying when this attitude is carried into adult life.

In bowing to every whim, in letting children get away with bad behaviour – in some cases behaviour which is actually criminal – whilst in school, what are we really doing?

At some point, these youths will find that they meet someone with whom they cannot argue, someone who will not bend the rules, someone who will not let them get away with aggression, someone who will not let them do as they want when they want, someone who will not accept that they deserve special treatment, someone who will not accept that the rules don’t apply to them, someone who really does have the ultimate authority and who will impose sanctions upon them.

Isn’t it better for this person to be the headteacher in a school, rather than a judge in a court?


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7 Responses to That explains it…

  1. CyberChalky says:

    This is the issue I most worry about for disaffected/disengaged students at school. Every effort is made to deal with their actions as if they were reasonable and rational, even when they are clearly not (please note I am not asserting that all concerns a student may have are not justifiable). Students will frequently (mis)behave towards school authority figures in a way that if (and when) directed towards external authority figures (police/magistrate/judge, employer/boss, or even just someone in the pub) will result in serious personal (and possibly permnanent) consequences.
    Schools do *absolutely* no favours to students by not demanding that they behave in a socially acceptable fashion.

    • Do you know if anyone has ever done a study into this? I wonder if schools would have to change their policy on behaviour if there was a statistically and academically valid study into the effects of placating the poorly behaved. Common sense says that if a person has never had to comply with rules as a child, they will find it harder to do so as an adult. But then common sense rarely drives educational policies in schools or the government.

      • CyberChalky says:

        I’m pretty sure that Daniel Willingham did something about this, but it was reversed – i.e how a single disruptive student in a class effects the learning of each other class member. I’m sure there are plenty of longitudinal studies on how life outcomes are negatively effected based on lack of educational attainment – it would be a relatively straight forward meta-analysis to examine the data for any correlation between the factors we are talking about. Regardless, I strongly doubt that any such research, regardless of how strong, could shift mainstream educational culture on this issue- it is almost an ideological point of honour to defend the victimisers in this situation…

  2. webby101 says:

    I think you are talking about something quite significant here. We don’t serve children at all well by constantly retreating, negotiatins and making allowances. Your last sentence says it all. Where are the left-of-centre academics and intellectuals who are willing to say that this is an issue that uniquely disadvantages the working class or underclass?

    • I think schools choose to sweep bad behaviour under the carpet as otherwise, if they excluded the naughty individuals, this would be reflected in their statistics.

      The fact that it may well be to the detriment of someone’s life-chances is not nearly as important as saying ‘there are no behaviour issues here – we are a good school’, is it?

      I think you are right in that it disadvanatages the working and underclass, more than any other group, but equally there are the people that politicians think ‘don’t count’….

  3. Nelly Booth says:

    Came in cold to this article, which I like a lot. But what’s SMT? It would be helpful if you spelled it out first time. Thanks.

    • Hi Nelly,
      Sorry about the lack of explanation – I had assumed this blog would only be of interest to UK teachers, who would be familiar with the jargon. I’ll bear in mimd that may not be the case in future!

      SMT – Senior Management Team. Usually consisting of Deputy Headteachers and Assistant Headteachers. Generally they have no class teaching commitment, or at least a very reduced one, and are therefore free to do paperwork, introduce new initiatives, read up on the latest ‘want’ from Ofsted (the schools inspectorate) and to undertake observations of those who are teaching.

      Very often SMT will impose new regulations and ideas that are actually unworkable when a full-time teacher, their lack of teaching commitment makes it difficult for them to realise that there are a finite number of hours in which to get the job done. An example of this was one Assistant Head who announced that all Infant teachers must listen to every child in their class reading for five minutes each, every day. At the time there were 29 children in each class, listening to each of them read for five minutes would take 145 minutes, or just under two and a half hours. I’m not sure who they thought would be watching the children during this time!

      SMT pronouncements in regard to discipline and behaviour are usually controversial as the managers making the decisions do not actually have to implement their ideas in the classroom.

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