Our dedicated teachers deserve greater respect

30 April 2014
The Yorkshire Post
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It is tragically sad that it has taken this noble teacher’s death to make the public conscious of this because, let’s face it, there are too many people who have contempt for teachers and I’m certain this has led to a situation where too many children don’t show enough respect towards their educators.

Having been a teacher in various state schools for over two decades now, I have witnessed first-hand how disrespectful some students, parents and other sections of the community can be towards teachers.

Sadly, some pupils do take their teachers for granted. When I was a young teacher, I used to get very angry at disrespectful students.

My responses often goaded them on though: I’d go red in the face and shout at them, demanding in so many words that they should show me some respect. Needless to say, they’d laugh in my face because this was what they wanted: for whatever reason, they wanted to be distracted from doing the work and “winding up” the teacher was the most entertaining way to do this.

As a result of my shouting and blustering, small incidents of poor behaviour would escalate and I would find truly terrifying things happening such as all the furniture being pushed out of the classroom and some students throwing missiles at me, or threatening me with violence.

Now I try to keep a calm demeanour in the classroom, set clear boundaries and rules from the outset and exude a purposeful confidence. I’ve learnt the crucial importance of nipping poor behaviour in the bud; every teacher needs to spot the very early signs of misbehaviour and “working” on the trouble-makers before they turn nasty.

This can mean “winning them over”: being positive about what they can do, praising the work that deserves praise and making them feel like they can succeed. One of the root causes of students misbehaving is that they feel, for a whole multitude of reasons, that they are “no good” and it’s not worth doing any work.

Unfortunately, English culture generally has a tendency to focus upon the ability of a child rather than the effort they put in; this means that very early on in their school career many children feel that they are “dumb”, “stupid”, and “not up to it”.

These sorts of phrases rattle around their heads day in, day out because they’ve not done well in various tests and exams: they feel that their whole identity is tarred with the brush of failure and that there’s no way to gain kudos with their peers except to muck around.

In contrast, children are judged upon their effort and not their abilities in many Far Eastern cultures like China. Even if they are doing badly in their tests, it is their effort levels that defines them. As a result, Chinese children show real “resilience”: they work harder if they are not doing well. They learn the value of “sweating the small stuff”.

English culture in a whole myriad of ways – not just in schools – ridicules people who try hard but do badly: they are doubly mocked precisely because they have put in the effort and still failed.

As a result, these children quickly come to disrespect themselves and stop trying. If we are going to improve students’ behaviour, we all need to start changing our attitudes towards people who try hard but do badly; we need to praise them for their effort and make them feel they are worthwhile people.

However, we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture that deplores “losers” and is forever celebrating the “lottery” winner, whether it’s someone who’s made lots of money gambling or getting a lucky break on The X-Factor. We seem to have forgotten the lesson of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and hare; it is, of course, the slowly plodding tortoise who wins the race and not the hare, who is full of ability but has no stamina.

Sadly, many of our politicians enjoy praising the hare and not the tortoise. I was particularly dismayed to hear Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, praising “young teachers” and denigrating older members of the profession, who he sees as being members of an amorphous, soulless “blob” and the “enemies of promise”.

This was a terrible insult to people like me who have given decades of their working life to public service.

Gove feels that it is the “Teach First” generation who are far better than the older generation: these are young teachers who are trained for six weeks and then usually only teach for a few years. By and large, these are the “hares” of the profession: they do their “sprint” as teachers for a while and then give up.

I am not saying there isn’t a place for these sorts of teachers, but personally, I think it is the teachers like Ann Maguire who are most deserving of praise: these are teachers who have unremittingly given up their working lives to improve the lot of young people.

During this tragically sad week, let’s not forget the long-serving teachers because I feel they deserve our respect the most.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for your excellent article in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post. I have been an infant teacher(now retired after nearly 34 years in the same school) so my interests have been more in the early years sector of the profession. I worked in a challenging school, however, where we struggled to develop the children’s spoken language and social skills, before we could embark on the more formal learning. I was particularly interested in your comments on how other countries educate their youngsters and yes I do feel we fail our young people by not giving them enough praise for effort made.
    During my career ,from 1975 to 2008 I came to see an increasingly more formal curriculum come on board, until I felt I was beginning to teach little more than a watered down secondary curriculum. The Swedes I believe take their early years education and social care very seriously and operate a play based form of learning for a good deal longer than we do here.
    The death of Ann McBride has been a terrible tragedy and I do worry about the mental health of some of the teenagers in our comprehensive schools. The continual sniping at teachers by the government and the overlooking of the very real social and emotional problems faced by our young people in a complex society seems to be taking it’s toll.
    Thank you once again for your article and your praise for us older teachers. Some bold statements that have needed to be said for a long time!

    from Vivienne Jackson
  2. Thanks for your kind words; I think we really need to consider the mental health of our teenagers more.

    from francisgilbert

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