Tuesday, 7 July 2015

It's all in the name

I am an 'Outstanding' teacher, in an 'Outstanding' school, and I am being bullied, day after day, by a group of year seven students.

When I ask them to do something, they ignore me.
When I ask them again, they ask me why?
When explain, they tell me that they don't have to.
When I tell them they do, they tell me they don't.
When I threaten them with detention, they tell me they won't turn up.
When I tell them to move seats, or leave the classroom, they laugh in my face.
When I send for on-call, they are suddenly silent, obedient. The on-call teachers, for the most part, look at me as if I'm mad. They look as if I have no idea what I'm doing. I ask for detentions; no-one turns up. I ask for sanctions; nothing happens.

Perhaps I make too much of a job title, but I know this truth to be self-evident: I am a cover supervisor, and for a great swathe of students this very fact obliterates my face and replaces it with a target. Teaching, at its very core, is a balance between behaviour management and the ability to convey information. There are many other factors, but at its core, these are two essential traits. I am not here to talk about conveying information, ideas and skills, for that has become nigh on impossible for me. I am here to talk about when behaviour management becomes impossible. because a single thing is broken: Not hearts, nor minds, (although mine are beginning to unravel) but the facade of repercussions.

You are more than welcome to disagree, but in my opinion behaviour management is based on a lie, and that lie is the the teacher somehow wields a power over the students that is unbreakable. Students fear things. Some fear detentions, or their parents, or being shouted at, but when it all boils down and dries out to the white grainy stuff that really screws up non-stick pans, students wield an overpowering amount of, well, power. Any class is only a smidgen of self-awareness away from breaking the spirit of a teacher. There is a moment when the class becomes the mob. They realise that the teacher is, essentially, powerless; that they cannot stop everyone at once. That, if their transgressions are spread wide enough and loud enough, there is no way that they can be controlled. In short, you can't kick a whole class out.

The cover teacher, then, is an easy victim. They rarely know names, rarely know systems and protocol, and regularly have to deliver boring textbook work. The cover teacher has difficulty building any positive relationships because their job is profoundly to tell students what to do. For students, the pervasive culture is that the cover teacher is a target, and they turn as entire classes towards this. Detentions are hard to set without a classroom, or names, or any knowledge of protocol and escalation. Other staff are too busy with their own work to adopt classes from others and so minor transgressions go ignored and this escalates. The next time a class is covered they ratchet up their behaviour and have no way back. There is no reset button for children gone feral.

So I'm another cover teacher being treated like shit by student after student, day after day, and I just put up with it and do whatever I can to make my life a little easier, all the time knowing that the students' time is being wasted, partly by themselves, and partly by a system which fails to support. But I think what is behind this is a tacit acceptance that a cover lesson is allowed to be wasted. This, surely, is indicative of a pervasive culture; that learning, and work, are only valued and accepted by students when they are told that they are in an environment that they are conditioned to appreciate. How sad is that? That we have engendered a culture in students that they only look to learning in little blocks. I (probably irrationally) blame learning objectives. This is learning, we tattoo on their little faces. This is it. I am the lord of teaching and listen up, we shout at the top of our teaching voices, because I am about to show you measurable learning. Look at my almighty powerpoint, for looking into it's depths will reveal to you the secrets of your future. Now go and write a fucking poem in groups.

And then, all the while this happens, it is children that suffer. Their wonderment is worn down and worn away until their belief is such that value is only placed on these things that they are told are important. And then beyond this they become fixated with the same culture of accountability that we do. They only listen to the people that tell them to listen to them the most. They only do what they think is directly related to their grades. They are being receded into something basic, and ignorant, and unthinking. We feed them only the food that we think they need, and this dry boredom means that any change is feared and becomes the catalyst for real nastiness. The mob only likes the driest of chicken, and if it is not fed it, it will gladly roast piggy, glasses or no.

Perhaps I am over thinking this whole affair. Perhaps I just keep seeing a class that is genuinely nasty. All I know is this; In my former job I pressed the dreaded on call button twice over two years. I the last six months as a cover teacher I have pressed it almost every day.

I am an 'outstanding' teacher in an 'outstanding' school, and I cannot control a group of year sevens and I don't know what to do about that anymore.

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