Saturday, February 14, 2015

If you can't beat 'em, appease 'em!

We're in February, right? We're approaching half-term, right? In fact, we're over halfway through the academic year, am I right? So why on earth has Brenda decided to rejig my department's Year 9 teaching groups? It's taken six painstaking months of sweat, tears and toil, bulging blood vessels, frothing and foaming at the mouth and nausea-inducing bellowing just to (almost) tame my class, for Heaven's sake. It wouldn't be quite so bad if we were given advance warning of the proposed changes; but, as appears to be the case, that would be far too much to expect from a leadership team afflicted with a bunker-mentality redolent of the one exhibited by Adolf's fawning coterie in war ravaged Berlin during 1945 - you know, the one exhibited just before he topped himself.

I look at my Head of Faculty in disbelief. 'What?! She wants us to teach the new, rearranged classes today? But the kids are at different stages of the syllabus! Where will I begin? I've already planned my lesson!' My head's being over-exercised by too many variables, a multitude of possibilities and probabilities that, if represented by illustration, would look a bit like a three-year-old's depiction of an extremely hairy man.

As for my colleague: she looks exhausted. She's clearly spent the last hour engaged in a futile effort to talk some sense into our exceptionally well remunerated, exceptionally stubborn Deputy Head. Sombre and dejected, she nods her head before proceeding to explain Brenda's rationale. 'She's concerned about the group dynamics,' she says. 'In particular, as you know, Joe, the behaviour in 9Y, Sarah's class, is awful. We need to split them up.'

'But why now?! I protest. 'My class is just beginning to settle. And why not give us at least a week's notice - you know, to prepare?' She shrugs her shoulders. I'm uncharacteristically lost for words.

Why can't we manage poor behaviour by addressing the causes rather than the symptoms? I think to myself, sulkily trudging back to my classroom. Instead of supporting Sarah and, through robust disciplinary systems that unambiguously enforce the school's rules, cultivating an ethos that deters unacceptable behaviour, we tacitly accept defeat by dividing previously challenging cohorts. The message is clear: we can't control you so, as a last, desperate resort, we're going to split you up.

This 'if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em' approach is as depressingly familiar as it is self-defeating. Several years ago our Head, Jackie, decided to abandon the school's uniform policy and, in place of shirts and ties came T-shirts and jumpers. Her rationale: the little gits used to untuck their shirts, loosen their ties and, on the odd occasion, tie them around their heads whilst pretending to be ninjas. Well of course they did, Jackie; what child wouldn't without the school wielding a proverbial stick to act as a friendly prompt? Jackie thus taught her young charges to poke and prod the boundaries of acceptability, safe in the knowledge that, instead of being sanctioned, they'd be appeased if caught. In short, according to this approach, given a gentle push, the boundaries, eminently flexible, will be moved, expanded and, ultimately, rendered meaningless as a consequence.

There has been a similar response to the chaos characterizing lesson changeover. Because our pupils can't be trusted to negotiate the corridors safely, line up quietly and enter their classrooms sensibly, instead of enforcing the school's expectations through the issuance of appropriate sanctions, the number of lesson changes has been reduced. Indeed, instead of six one-hour lessons, we now have only three, each lasting for two-hours. The kids remain raucous between each lesson - that hasn't changed - but they only get the chance to do so on three occasions during the course of the school day. Meanwhile, you can only imagine the detrimental impact of these extended lessons on behaviour. 

I stare out of my rain-flecked window and continue to contemplate the implications of Brenda's latest initiative. Those poor children. Halfway through the school year, their education is being disrupted by our leadership's inability - through its fanatical, myopic commitment to progressive dogma that proscribes the use of punishment as a means of controlling unruly pupils - to robustly enforce the school's rules. It really is a tragedy.

Anyway, I've got some planning to do...

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