I read an unfortunate review of a BBC documentary entitled “Classroom Secrets” (yet to be televised in my country). The BBC website describes the documentary as a TV first:
In the first experiment of its kind on TV, parents in a primary school in Leicester are given a unique opportunity to see how their children really behave behind the classroom door.The film shows the challenges teachers face and the effect, on all pupils, of low-level disruption – estimated to cost schools across Britain three weeks of teaching every year. The usually secret life of a Year 4 class is filmed by fixed cameras over the course of one week, after which some of the parents are invited to see what their child has got up to. The film shows surprising – sometimes shocking – results for both teachers and parents and asks – who’s really responsible for how our children behave in class?
Sandra Parsons from the Daily Mail puts all the blame for this unruly class on the teacher. First, there’s the crass and highly simplistic headline:
It’s teachers who need a lesson in discipline to control these unruly students
Her simplistic and naive statements continue with this observation:
When the teacher watched the footage of her class, she said what she’d learned was that ‘where she placed herself in the classroom’ was of vital importance. At which point, I practically wept.
Sadly, she was utterly oblivious to the fact that one of the fundamental causes of her pupils’ bad behaviour was not where she sat, but where her pupils sat.
Instead of having individual desks, they were grouped around tables scattered about the room. Most of the children faced each other, not the teacher. There was no structure and no discipline. Unsurprisingly, they were bored and disruptive.
Seating arrangements, whilst relevant to student participation and conduct is certainly not the most important ingredient in classroom management. The poor teacher is likely to have used it as an excuse for her shortcomings, not because it would have solved the problem entirely.
Parsons goes on to write:
Witness, by way of contrast to the Leicester school, the traditional teaching methods that have been espoused by headmaster Sir Michael Wilshaw at Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, East London.
At Mossbourne, pupils are sent home even for wearing the wrong colour shoes. If they arrive late or without their school planner, they have to stay in at break or lunch.
Mobile phones are banned, substantial homework is set, and any pupils who disrupt a lesson or are rude to staff have to stay behind until 6pm.
Teachers work 15-hour days because they recognise that many pupils are unlikely to be returning to a home where they’re encouraged to do their homework, so stay after hours to help them do it at school.
And when the children do go home, teachers and a few ‘heavies’ line the route to the bus-stop so no one gets beaten up for wearing a smart uniform.
Why do people always point to these types of schools as the answer to all our education problems? I would hate to teach in a school like this? I would never want a child of mine to have to suffer a system that keeps them in to 6pm for the slightest infringement.
Why can’t schools impose boundaries and high expectations without being a dictatorial, prison-like institution? Is the aim that students have some enjoyment of school so offensive? Why can’t we trust that children can adhere to basic rules and display respect without beating it into them with a raft of unpleasant and highly suffocating regulations?
And Ms. Parsons is being unfair to teachers by accusing those who are not maintaining order in their class as lacking dedication. Has she ever taught a class? It’s not that easy.
Below are other reasons why teachers can’t be fully blamed for an unruly class:
- The standard of teacher training is very poor. Often student-teachers are not given the tools to be able to overcome these challenges;
- An out-of-control class is often a symptom of poor leadership and an unhealthy school culture;
- Where is the support for a teacher when they need it?
- Some classes are just plain difficult to teach regardless of the experience, passion or dedication of the teacher.
It is not fait to be so simplistic and narrow-minded when judging a teacher’s performance. There is often many factors and reasons for a teacher’s inability to maintain oder. It’s not always solely the teacher’s fault.
(Please note that my above comments were not refering to the Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney. I am not familiar with that school so I can’t comment on them directly).