It’s Time to Change the Culture of the Classroom

I have a confession to make. As driven as I am to help my students master the curriculum, there is something more important to me than their academic achievement. I would not be even remotely satisfied if my students were at or above the national standard in numeracy and literacy if they also happened to be bullying, bullied or struggling to cope with everyday life. Conversely, if my students were below national standards but were functioning well and getting along with each other, I would be far more satisfied.

That’s not to say that I don’t understand that a vital function of my job is to educate. I know that all too well. It’s just that I wont let that distract me from my mission in setting up a classroom that is caring, friendly and allows each child to express themselves in their own unique way.

I am sick and tired of reading about how bullying is causing kids as young as 7 to diet. It infuriates me that so little is done by teachers to protect young kids from this stigma and prevent bullies from causing distress. I know what I am claiming will be seen as a gross generalisation, but how many teachers are prepared to overlook a hurtful comment about weight or ignore the activity by the “in-crowd?”

No classroom should have an “in-crowd”. In-groups cannot exist without a readily defined “out-group”. It is a teacher’s job to foster a classroom environment without such divisions. It is more important than any equation or scientific experiment.


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4 Responses to “It’s Time to Change the Culture of the Classroom”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    You are dead right, Michael. The things that count most in education are the things you can’t count or measure. A happy classroom is one where children can’t help but learn. If the teacher is being stressed by system demands about test results, that stress will filter down to the children. Mass testing has never improved education results. In the 1960’s NSW schools ran the “Basic Skills” Tests. They were discontinued for a very good educational reason. They have come back again in another form, not for an educational reason but for a political reason.

    I have an idea that structures, such as mass testing, and accreditation boards (the ones that make teachers jump through a series of hoops) are designed not for any educational purpose but to control the teaching profession. As such they provide a smokescreen for the bullying that exists between administration and the classroom. Show me a school where teachers are bullied, overtly or covertly, and I will show you a school where bullying occurs unchecked in the classroom and playground.

    My little class for intellectually disabled children was a happy busy place. Nobody expected these children to achieve anything so there was no pressure on the teacher to produce results. This teacher gave them challenging learning experiences with expectations matched to each individual’s level of ability. Another telling point was that several children in “normal” classes liked to visit my class and join in. There was no stigma. The kids enjoyed their time at school and as far as I can determine, every student from that class at the time is now working in paid employment in a diverse set of occupations.

    A number of these kids, when they went on to high school, attended a church youth group that I ran with my wife. In the same group were some children at the high end of the ability range. What really touched me was the way in which these kids bonded as a group and would look after each other at school and still keep in contact even now, in their 20’s.

    Down with mass testing and let the teachers teach, is my mantra.

  2. Mike Feurstein Says:

    Just wanted to say how in-synch I feel with all of these comments.

    Excellent discussion here.

  3. Jason Preater Says:

    Very well put. I used to work at Summerhill School where all issues of bullying were brought by the kids to the Meeting where they were exhaustively discussed and actions taken that were voted on by everyone. Teachers could also be “brought up” in the Meeting, a good check on bullying adults.

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