Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Out of order

I've been hearing this phrase a lot recently:

That's well out of order

and it's been grating on me. I hear it a lot from students, and very occasionally from staff about students who say it a lot in some kind of reflective ironic joke. The staff will grow out of it, but I'm not sure that the students will, because they seem to be indulged again and again, not just in my school but nationally. Perhaps internationally, in the Anglo-centric forum at least.

What grates me, as if I am the most sweatily warm of own-brand cheddars, is that students appear to be confusing truth with unfairness. Or, perhaps not truth, but honesty. An example, I hear you cry from the orchestra pit, well: I was wondering through a school recently, when two teachers walked along the bottom of a stairwell of whose stairs I was, well, walking down, behind two unbeknowing students, chewing. One teacher said to the other

'I'm so frustrated with him. I've put on revision classes after school every day and he always says that he is coming and never turns up.'

to which the other, their line manager, replied:

'You've done everything you can. If they want to fail, then let them fail.'

The students in front of me, bedawdelling their way down the stairs, piped up at this point.

'Did you hear that? That's peak that is.'
'Yeah, well out of order.'

I stopped, then, on the stairs, and waited for the students to go. It was lunchtime, and I had no need to enter a convoluted defence of an ethic that the students clearly didn't care for. I was, however, galled. Disbelieving.

Perhaps it is just me who sees the fundamental issue at the core of this little anecdote, perhaps it is not. I believe, firmly, that teachers have a duty to provide as much as is possible for their students, but I also believe that students need to learn that, for most of their lives, very few people will go out of their way to help them. Life is a tough old place, and people lose jobs and go bankrupt on 'That's out of order' attitudes.

I feel like this entitlement to a teacher's daily misery is propagated by the unrealistic standards set by government on achievement and that this in some way reflects upon teachers. To illustrate, there is that old idiom: You can't do the exam for them. Unfortunately, it would seem, teachers are being forced into a scenario where they feel like they have to and students are beginning to get wind of this, and it is creating a cancerous, damaging attitude of entitlement, as if many students know that their teachers will be judged on their progress and so assume that teachers simply will not let them fail. The adage of failure not being an option has been inverted from an expectation into a student-led tacit threat. You can't do that, you're not allowed to let me fail, is becoming a rousing chant of an increasing number of lacklustre students.

To finish: A friend of mine rang me recently. (Yes that's right, I have a friend)He is a sports coach at a very big and successful club. I asked him how his team were going to do this year and he said, quite nonchalantly, we'll do okay, but we just don't have the personnel. I was awestruck; what a refreshing attitude. Sometimes you don't get the students, and it's not your fault as a teacher that all their parents seemed to have only drunk Lead-Based Sunny Delight while pregnant. (unless it was, of course, and then you should be rightfully ashamed.)

If they really want to fail, who are we to stop them? All we can do is explain the consequences, teach as best we can, and afford the opportunities. It is their life to live.

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