On cowardice

I took a cover lesson today, after which I called a kid up for his behaviour in the lesson. He, like a lot of people in that lesson, was off-task and distracting others, but when I spoke to him afterwards he treated me like something he’d scraped off his shoe. He accused me of being gullible, of not addressing the behaviour of other people in that class, of picking on him because I’d taught him the year before, all in a tone designed to let me know what an idiot I was.

So far, so standard. Right?

It was only when the TA and my Head of Department (who happened to be walking past at the time) heard me venting about the rudeness of some of our kids that I realised that I’d started to take it for granted. I wasn’t planning on doing anything. I felt powerless. From what I gathered, the class teacher was in a similar situation; by all reports, he frequently endures similar rudeness from them.

My HoD insisted on following it up, and I actually protested. I told her I didn’t want the hassle, didn’t want to have to call his parents, and actually didn’t feel like that it was that big a deal. I told her that because when I’ve called students up on uniform misdemeanours in the past they’ve come and sought me out to flaunt their undone top buttons. One student pursued me round the school for three months shouting the word “nonetheless!” at me after I’d spoken to her at break; another repeatedly yells my surname at me in the corridors since I asked her to speak to me properly.

What I feel is bullied. What I feel is that, increasingly, the kids are winning; that they are taking control, and rudeness is increasingly coming to be expected. It’s not helped by a recent SLT policy of criticising teachers who send too many students out of lessons, and the subsequent grilling about the strategies that have been tried beforehand. Many teachers don’t bother sending students out these days, as it reflects poorly on them. We have been declawed, and the students know it.

And so I find myself giving in to a cowardice that is in its own way a kind of strength; accepting that ‘they don’t really mean it’ (even though they probably do) and ‘they’ll thank me one day’ (even though they probably won’t) and all the while trying to sift through what is positive behaviour management and what is inappropriate. It’s enough to drive a man to despair. Say what you will about Tom Sherrington, vilified in the Daily Mail last week, but at least his behaviour policy at HGS is clear and well-enforced. The alternative leads us to where I found myself today, wondering if as a teacher it’s even my responsibility to address that kind of attitude.

It is my responsibility, though. Of course it is.

Whether or not it’s possible is a different matter.

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On cowardice

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