A headteacher confesses: Naughtiness is sometimes a sign of being clever #lessonswecanlearnfromteachers

10 March 2016
Long Game Articles

This article is an extract from a forthcoming book, The Long Game: The Lessons We Can Learn From Long-Serving Teachers. The aim was to interview long-serving teachers, listen to their stories and see if I could draw out any lessons from their experiences. Constructive comments are welcome; they will help me make it a better book.

Contrary to the stereotype many teachers are not “goody-goodies”. Some of the most successful teachers were actually badly behaved. Headteacher David Mansfield falls into this category. He was very naughty at the primary school he attended during the 1960s. He told me:

I was a very badly behaved at primary school: a good example of a clever boy who was bored in class. For example, I would be given drawings to colour in during the last half hour of a lesson because I’d finished the work before everyone else. I was usually told to colour in the supplied picture in red. So, just to be a contrarian, I would colour one section red, another part blue, and another part green. The teacher wouldn’t be happy and would say that I hadn’t done it properly, and I would say, “Yes, I have, I’ve put a colour in each space, why should I bother to colour it in red?” Or I’d irritate the teacher who would tell us to do three questions and then leave the rest of the questions. I’d quickly do the three questions and then be told by the teacher to do the rest of the questions. Then I’d annoy the teacher by saying: “Why do I have to do the other questions when I’ve done the questions you wanted us to do, and anyway, the other questions are exactly the same as the other ones!”

Most teachers would recognise similar situations to the ones described here; dealing with the child who has finished before everyone else by giving him or her “busy work”, anything to shut him or her up! David seems to have enjoyed subverting the teacher’s expectations of what should or should not be done. The lesson here is that busy work doesn’t work; children need to be given meaningful activities to get on with, not the mental equivalent of breaking up rocks. David’s mission as a headteacher was to try and avoid similar situations happening in his school as those he’d experienced as a child. Children are most likely to be naughty at school when they feel they have nothing meaningful to learn.

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