I’m linking up with the lovely Sara at mumturnedmom again this week for her new linky ‘The Prompt’. I really enjoyed reading all the other posts that linked up last week. It’s interesting to see everyone’s different takes on the same prompt.
And so, to this weeks prompt…
I was saddened by………….
I was saddened by a tweet I read this week in which someone said the TV documentary Educating Yorkshire, which this week won a National Television Award for Best Documentary Series, made them “despair for our education in this country”. As a secondary school teacher myself it made me think about the impression those with no experience of secondary education, other than their own, have of our schools today.
I live in Fife, in the east of Scotland and in my four years of teaching I have taught in four different schools. Three of those schools have a high proportion of pupils from low income families. The school I taught in most recently over 40% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The pupils I deal with every day (when I’m not on maternity leave that is) are not dissimilar to those kids you see on programmes like Educating Yorkshire, or Educating Essex which came before it.
A lot of the kids I teach are often labelled as ‘challenging’. It’s been in the news recently that two-fifths of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years. To me this is a shocking, but not surprising statistic. According to the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw – “Many new recruits are quitting the classroom because they are inadequately prepared for dealing with unruly pupils”. And I can believe it; behaviour of some pupils in some schools is appalling. If you’ve seen Educating Yorkshire you might have an idea of the kind of things pupils get up to – if you haven’t let me give you a few examples of the kind of behaviour that I have had to deal with in my four short years as a teacher:
- I have been sworn at more times than I care to remember
- I have kids flatly refusing to follow any instructions they are given
- I rarely get through a lesson without having to send someone out of the room for causing a disruption
- I have, on two separate occasions, had pupils overturn their desks in anger
- I have waited more than 15 minutes for a class to stop talking so I could start the lesson. (I tried every tactic I could think of to get them to be quiet – in the end, waiting it out seemed the best option)
- I have kids pushing or hitting each other almost daily
- I have had two 14 year old boys have a fight in my classroom, with chairs, when I was about 5 months pregnant!
- And that’s not to mention the general chatter, answering back and disrespect that happens in every lesson.
I can understand why some new teachers can’t cope with the behaviour they have to deal with. I’ve been lucky that in every school I have worked in there has been a decent behaviour policy in place which is backed up by support from senior members of staff. And there are always some kids who are well behaved, who do want to work and to learn. I’m sure there are schools where the general standard of behaviour is better, but to some degree or another wherever you find kids, you will find badly behaved kids. There have been many times over the last four years where I’ve thought I couldn’t cope, that I had made the wrong decision by going into teaching and if you look at the way teaching is portrayed in the media then you would wonder why anyone would do it.
But this is what makes me sad; we shouldn’t despair over the state of education in this country, although I’ll be the first to admit I’m glad I teach in Scotland, out of the reach of Michael Gove and all the terrible decisions he keeps making about education in England. Because, these kids don’t need despairing over, they need help to overcome whatever it is that makes them behave the way they do. They need some hope, that if they work hard at school then they can achieve, that they can make something of themselves. My main role, as a teacher, is not to teach these kids French or Spanish. It’s to teach them how to respect one another, how to work with other people, how to communicate, how to trust that there are adults who will do their best for them, how to ask for help, how to become responsible members of society.
There are no excuses for bad behaviour, but there are often reasons behind it. Some of the kids I teach just don’t know any better. Maybe, the kid who is falling asleep at his desk, or staring out of the window in a daze didn’t go to bed until 1am last night because he had to stay up and look after his little sister while his mum was working the night shift at the 24 hour supermarket because that’s the only job she can get. Maybe the kid who shouts and swears is just following the example of his dad, because that’s what he does when he wants something. Maybe the boy who is having a fight is so angry with everyone because he lives in a children’s home and when he sees his mum every third month she makes him promises she can’t keep and it takes the next month for his teachers and support workers to get him back on track. Maybe the boy who can’t sit still in his seat and keeps shouting out the answers is really trying his best to keep his ADHD under control but sometimes his impulses are stronger than he can manage.
So I try to understand why these kids are acting the way they are (and believe me, their stories make me feel sad every day), and I do what I can to show them the right way to act, the right way to behave, and therefore, hopefully, the right way to learn. I set consistent boundaries and I stick to them. I don’t let them get away with poor behaviour but nor do I just shout at them, because sometimes they spend their time at home being shouted at, adding my voice to the mix isn’t going to get them to do what I need them to do. So I talk to them, I reason with them and I get them to do what I need them to do but I make them think that it was their idea. And I know that there are thousands of teachers out there who are working their asses off to do the very best they can for all the kids that they teach. So don’t despair for the state of education in our country. There’s really no need.