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Classroom Chaos


John Simkin
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Andy writes:
I'm afraid it would do nothing to further stoke up this Tory party inspired moral panic about the behaviour of young people.

I don't think that this is a party political issue. I have never voted Tory in my life - I have always voted Labour or (occasionally) Lib-Dem - but I am becoming increasingly concerned about the bad behaviour of young people, particularly as it affects me personally.

I think that given the very high profile Howard's shower has given to "improving school discipline" the TV programme which facilitated this debate must be viewed in context of the election campaign. How it has been subsequently used and consumed to create a 'moral panic' about unruly youth also needs to be understood and unpacked.

As a piece of sociological research "Classroom Chaos" cannot be seen as either reliable, (as my own experience and the experience of many others suggests) or as a valid depiction of a typical British classroom.

Statistically young males have always been more likely to commit crime. I don't doubt for one moment that Graham is decribing a real problem in his locality. However the causes for this will be complex and one of them may well be how society increasingly negatively labels young people.

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Andy writes:

Statistically young males have always been more likely to commit crime. I don't doubt for one moment that Graham is decribing a real problem in his locality. However the causes for this will be complex and one of them may well be how society increasingly negatively labels young people.

Around one third of the youngsters who hang around on the corner of our shopping precinct are girls. What I fail to understand is the mentality of parents who allow a 14-year-old girl to hang around on a street corner up until 11 o'clock at night. Essentially, it's irresponsible parenting.

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http://www.tes.co.uk/section/staffroom/thr...n/&threadPage=1

The discussion of the TV program on this TES site has now run to 24 pages in the space of a couple of days.

I find the debate about bad behaviour being the teacher's fault because the teacher is "too old, too middle-class, out of touch, female" etc absolutely amazing.

The few who said this were promptly put in their place and rightly so - we shouldn't expect students to behave only if the teacher has the "right" personality or is the right gender or age - do we say that about policemen or employers?

What is this teacing kids? That you only behave if the person you are dealing with has the characteristics you approve of? My god, I can't believe intelligent people are saying this.

I just read a very recent account of Russian schools in the Phi Beta Kappa journal - kids run wild during breaks, screaming shouting,chasing each other around, but the moment they walk back into the classroom they become polite, attentive and well-behaved. What this says is that most students CAN control their own behaviour, but in our societies thay choose not to and we let it happen.

I still cannot come to terms with Andy's conviction that thing are just the same as always. How can they be if you even just take inclusion let alone increased bad parenting - 20 years ago there would not have been any autistic children in mainstream classes. I'm not saying that was a good thing, but it does mean that teachers are now dealing with highly aberrant behaviour without adequate trraining or resources. How can you possibly say that things are no different to the young teacher I had in my office last week, wanting to resign because she has a severely autistic 7 yr old in her class throwing, spitting, attacking other children who has actually inflicted wounds which needed hospital treatment on two TAs and the mother refuses to have him in a special school? The whole class is in chaos because of this one child and the DoE's answer is to "try a different approach" as if it's the teacher's fault.

All of this makes me so angry when day after day we have to support teachers who are burnt out, poorly manages, under resourced, ham-strung by bureacracy and legilation, and getting out of teaching because by their 50s they cannot take any more.

i wish they all worked in a school like yours, Andy, but they don't.

Please read the TES thread.

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I did plough through all the pages on TES forum -- it was only 16 pages long then -- and, as usual, over there, there are some people with some very strange ideas. Can they really be teachers?

I've been fortunate enough to teach in an international school for the past 30 years, so I've been rather insulated from the changes back in the UK. First in Iran and then in Spain, I've been lucky enough to teach students who, for the most part, have wanted to learn, and whose parents have been, for the most part, wholly supportive of teachers' efforts. I think that this was a general cultural difference rather than because most of the students at international schools come from middle class backgrounds.

It occurs to me that part of the problem in the UK might be related to the "straightjacket" of the National Curriculum. In the schools I've taught at, I usually free -- within the restrictions of the public examinations like the IB or the Spanish selectividad -- to choose what I teach and how I teach it. This means that I can pursue in greater depth those issues which a particular class find interesting or challenging. Since I teach history, such interests often relate to current affairs and may well be different from year to year. Again, things that happen in the playground or corridors can be related to what we study, or, in some cases, we can just set aside history fro 30 minutes and talk about something entirely tangental. I don't know, but I suspect from UK teachers I've spoken to, if you could do that sort of thing in England any more.

Could the high pressure of taking exams every year also have a negative effect?

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This is an extract from a recent report on net-based examination (the extract isby David Hamilton of Umeå University), and I think it has some relevance to the over-tested UK school system:

"A new horizon in examinations began to take shape in the 1980s, when a researcher in the USA, Samuel Messick, drew [attention] to the consequences of examination practices. In economics this is known as Goodhart’s law – that every measure which becomes the focus of attention becomes a bad measure. This idea is widely understood in the human, social and medical sciences – that all research on humans beings has social side-effects which may be counter-productive.

"One international consequence of Messick's work has been a tendency to separate assessment as a social and ethical practice from testing as a measurement practice. This divergence can be seen in Umeå university where Pedagogiska mätningar [pedagogical measurement] - a unit in Pedagogik [pedagogics] - has now been transformed into beteendevetenskapliga mätningar [behavioural science measurement].

"Another divergence between these two views is that measurement is seen as an objective process where, as it were, the investigator stands back from the subject who, in turn, is put under the microscope. Assessment, on the other hand, is a close-up practice, something where the investigator interferes in the measurement activity, with the conscious goal of changing the outcomes.

"One of the current problems in higher education is that test developers start out ‘with the intention of making the important measurable’, but end up ‘making the measurable important’ (Wiliam, 2000, p. 1). Or, as another commentator, Laura Hamilton has pointed out, current practices may cloud teachers’ ability to ‘distinguish between ethical and unethical practices’ (Hamilton, 2003, p. 36). And Lorrie Shepard, a former President of the American Educational Research Association, identified this problem by revising an acronym widely used in ICT: ‘WYTIWYG’, she suggests, means ‘What You Test Is What You Get’ (Shepard, 2001, p. 1082).

"Not surprisingly, teachers are confused. What are they supposed to be doing? My own [research is] suggesting is that they are struggling with the difference between the new learning and the old learning. The new learning is learning whose outcomes, processes and methods are deemed appropriate to the learning/information society and whose practices are endorsed by contemporary psychological and educational theory. The old learning was much more influenced by the concerns that marked testing in the early part of the 1900s. That is, it was based on a quantitative model of learning. Thus the difference between an ‘A-kurs’ [first term] and a ‘B-kurs’ [second term] is that students have more knowledge that can be quantified. The new learning is more of a qualitative model, where the difference between and ‘A-kurs’ and a ‘B-kurs’ is that students learn differently."

--------

In my experience, you're bound for trouble in education whenever you "make the measurable important".

Edited by David Richardson
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I did plough through all the pages on TES forum -- it was only 16 pages long then -- and, as usual, over there, there are some people with some very strange ideas. Can they really be teachers?......

It occurs to me that part of the problem in the UK might be related to the "straightjacket" of the National Curriculum.....

Could the high pressure of taking exams every year also have a negative effect?

These are very salient points.

Government control freakery in the administration of teachers, their training and schools generally has in my view led to a situation where there are a great many people now with teaching qualifications in the UK who really shouldn't have them. Hence the bizarre nature of some of the views expressed on the TES forum. Managing adolescent behaviour requires an understanding of context, an understanding of children and an understanding of theories of learning. Intelligence, flexibility, humour and empathy are also essential ingredients. Teachers trained in the TTA "tick box" environment will arguably have too little exposure to educational theory, psychology and sociology, they will also have very little time for reflection.

Government control freakery in the assessment of learning piles pressure onto children every year. Children undoubtedly rebel against the exam factory atmosphere of so many secondary schools. The "external reward" of the examination certificate is no substitute for interest and motivation.

It is too easy to blame what we see in some schools squarely on the children

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Regarding the points David makes about testing:

Many years ago (pre National Curriculum) my wife, who was a school governor at the time, was on the interviewing panel seeking to appoint a headteacher for our new local primary school. A very right-wing Conservative councillor, who was one of the other members of the panel, quizzed each candidate on his/her attitudes to testing. One of the candidates, a well-qualified and very witty Welshman, replied: "I'm not sure that it does a lot of good. We've been measuring children's height for years, but it does not appear to have made them grow more quickly." My wife laughed. The candidate got the job and the school blossomed. Both my daughters attended the school and received an excellent education.

Andy writes:

It is too easy to blame what we see in some schools squarely on the children.

I don't blame the children. Bad behaviour is due to a number of different factors, but discipline starts in the home. Far too many parents simply do not have a clue about the way children should be brought up, respecting other people and people's property, being polite and well-mannered, etc.

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Paste below from TES site. A reply to someone else who said, "Bad behaviour is not the children's fault".

............................................................

"Stuff that. So they get lousy food. So their parents are morons.

This still doesn't make it even remotely "all right".

There's too much of "it's everyone else's fault but the little f*ckers who throw chairs", and THAT thought process is the real problem, not the food or the parents, all of which are consequences of it.

No, it's the fault of the children."

.............................................................

My middle son part owns a bakery and employs apprentice bakers. This year he had to put one of them on "a behaviour contract" because the boy wants to become a tradesman but doesn't have any control over his temper, is rude, lashes out at other employees, turns up late, takes many days off etc etc, Under new laws he cannot be sacked, but has to be placed on a behaviour management contract at 18 years of age. What sort of world are we creating by "never blaming the perpetrator"?

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What sort of world are we creating by "never blaming the perpetrator"?

I wasn't aware that anyone was suggesting that let alone creating it.

Part of my behaviour management strategy for everyday of my working life is to imbue a sense of personal responsibility in the children in my charge.

If parents, school, teachers and other agencies sing the same tune rather unsuprisingly it tends to work today as it ever has done :up

We must not forget that we are the adults in the relationship. Children are the products of the environment and nurture adults supply.

Down the alternative path lies reactionary nonsense like corporal punishment.

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If parents, school, teachers and other agencies sing the same tune rather unsuprisingly it tends to work today as it ever has done :up

But that's the crux of the problem, Andy - they don't any longer. Parents defend and condone their badly behaved children insread of correcting or chastising them. Legislation, taken to ridiculous extremes, backs them, schools no longer have effective sanctions and students know it. They also "know their rights" to the degree of threatening teachers who are doing nothing more than their job, with discrimination laws, civil rights and harassment.

I understand that YOU manage your students very well with your techniques and approach and that's wonderful. What you don't seem able to acknowledge is that this is not happening everywhere and that in the majority of cases it is not the fault of the teacher, but a result of bad parenting, changes in society, and that it IS getting worse.

You can blame the national curriculum if you want to and maybe it doesn't help, but here in Australia we don't have one, with our outcomes based framework we can teach in individualistic ways, have permission to use all sorts of "untraditional" approaches, teach what should interest and engage students, yet our teachers are still suffering an increase in verbal and physical assault. I could quote you figures to prove that from our records.

I don't think we are ever going to agree on this one - I guess I just see it from a wider perspective as I deal daily with teachers whose lives and careers have been ruined because no one in authority will take responsibility for children who are out of control.

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Two more pastes from TES with which I heartily agree:

To be fair about the teacher, she did admit to not being a brilliant teacher with all the new teaching strategies. Yes, she did bite too easily, but she has a whole day like this. I witness this kind of behaviour in most lessons, but i think to a lesser extent because I am a full time teacher. Lets not start blaming the teachers, and look at the behaviour of the children. Should you have to spend all your time producing all singing all dancing lessons for students to behave. They should learn to have respect and behave whatever. I plan all singing, all dancing lessons and am unable to deliver them. This demoralises me and I stop for a while. And shock horror, lo and behold I do get a text book out. Hang on a minute, wasn't that how we all learnt at school

2 | Posted by: at 29 Apr 2005 22:21

Agreed. Supply, like permanent teaching, is something that you get better and easier with when you have been a while doing it.

That lady did her best, and she didn't deserve all that. If kids only behave for 'super teachers', then there will not be much good behaviour.

Judging a teacher's right to expect decent behaviour by his/her gifts as a teacher is the height of stupidity: do citizens only accept arrest from 'inspirational' police officers? Next time I see a middle-aged police constable, shall I ignore him because at his age he should be a sergeant? Is there such a thing as an 'advanced skills police constable'?

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And another one - THIS is the reality of schools, both in the UK and here:

"I'm appalled by some of the opinions in this thread slamming that supply teacher. How can you justify pupils abusing a teacher like that? NO teacher deserves this kind of abuse or behaviour.

I think she did a very commendable job considering the circumstances. She put in a good effort for a supply, I've seen much worse. I would love to see some of you 'blame the teacher' posters do some day to day supply in tough London secondary schools in the poorest boroughs. Go on, bring em on!

I worked at one of the schools shown in the documentary a few years back (it used to be in special measures) and I've seen far worse behaviour there with the full time staff. The doc wasn't edited to make schools look bad, it actually happens day to day. I've taught and worked in some of the toughest inner city schools in London, even one of these fancy new academies that had loads of statemented nutters that should really be in a borstal. All had atrocious behaviour, particularly lower sets...jumping on tables, chucking stuff at the teacher, insults, chucking chairs around the room, fighting and strangling, cussing each other, leaving the lesson at will. It goes on and on.

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Jean is right to suggest that the behaviour of young people is a problem in all developed countries. I think this problem has been caused by several factors including the break-down in traditional family life, a decline in parenting skills and a change in attitudes towards those in authority.

I believe the problem is worse in the UK because of the government obsession with publicly recorded assessment of students. All good teachers have in the past assessed their students on a regular basis. The problem with the present system is that details are published and then students (and schools) are placed in rank order. Students struggling at the bottom are de-motivated by this process. They main way they deal with the problem of being seen as “failing” is to convince themselves that the ranking is unimportant. Psychological, it is far worse to try and fail than it is to not try and fail. Therefore they reject the values of the teacher who is trying to get them to improve. They no longer seeing it as being in their interests to allow the teacher to create an academic learning environment. Therefore, they are more concerned with “having a laugh” in the classroom.

This is of course what went on in the old secondary modern schools. However, in those days, teachers had a lot more power to control the behaviour of the students. Anyway, these were schools that mainly educated the working-classes. Parents just accepted this state of affairs. This is no longer the case.

It is true that some experienced teachers like Andy have the ability to keep students under control. However, they are in a minority. The majority find it increasingly difficult to control the behaviour of those who have rejected the values of the school. Young teachers in particular find it increasingly difficult to put on what Erving Goffman calls the “mask of authority”.

I believe this problem will only begin to be solved when we address the problem of the government’s obsession with league tables.

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I believe this problem will only begin to be solved when we address the problem of the government’s obsession with league tables.

Which of course is just one facet of the more general negative labelling of young people I was referring to. Add also to this the crushingly boring nature of "learning" geared constantly to testing and you have the ingredients for a student backlash.

I still count myself as a "young teacher" :)

Behaviour management is not a question of age (though good experience helps). It is a set of learnt behaviours that an intelligent young teacher properly trained should be able to master quite quickly.

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