Thursday, February 11, 2016

In a depressing role reversal, pupils are now punishing their teachers

For how much longer are we willing to subject our teachers to such appalling levels of violence? It seems that not a month goes by without some shocking statistic coming to light about the number of weapons being carried in our classrooms, or the number of teachers being attacked by their pupils.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, almost half of respondents admitted being attacked by their pupils in the last year. Some had been punched and kicked, others shoved and spat at; a minority had even been assaulted with weapons. It really does defy belief.

Unsurprisingly, many of the victims had suffered stress and anxiety as a result. And some had seriously considered quitting teaching altogether. If the Government wants to know why schools are finding it so difficult to retain staff, it need look no further.

As a teacher with over 10 years' experience, these findings come as no surprise. They simply reflect and give statistical backing to my day to day experiences. Indeed, I'd find it well-nigh impossible to remember the number of times I've been verbally abused during the last year alone. 

'F*** off!' 'C***!' 'P****!' T***!' This is language you sadly become accustomed to as a teacher in modern Britain. If a week goes by without hearing at least one of these expletives emitted from some foul-mouthed delinquent, you'd think yourself lucky.

Just two weeks ago I was threatened with a chair. Last year I had to restrain a pupil as he attempted to hit me for having the audacity to give him a detention. Whilst at a school in Essex, a pupil threatened a colleague with a knife, another member of staff with a screwdriver during a Design and Technology lesson and, some months before, locked a female colleague in a cupboard after threatening to head-butt her. The list goes on...

But what happens to these kids as a consequence? In a word, nothing. That's why they do it. 

Senior leaders have long since given up trying to discipline unruly youths. Okay, they might give them the odd detention - which they usually fail to attend - or, at the very most, exclude them for five days. But normally, after listening to a hard luck story about the child's terrible home life or ongoing battle with ADHD, they take pity on them, give them their umpteenth chance and blame the teacher for not engaging them enough in lessons. So us teachers are effectively blamed for the abuse we suffer.

Every senior leader I’ve had the misfortune to work under has espoused an ideology that effectively proscribes the punishment of children. This Rousseau-inspired Cult of the Child views adults as corrupt agents responsible for their cruel debasement. Children are pure and morally irreproachable; adults, on the other hand, are despicable, objectionable creatures who will, if left unchecked by their more enlightened leaders, infect and rot the moral purity of their young charges. So teachers are the enemy.

Pupils are thus expected to spy and cast judgement upon us through conversations with Ofsted inspectors, senior leaders and school governors. They're even asked to interview new job applicants. Known by the innocuous sounding, almost euphemistic, Student Voice, sinister questionnaires are specifically designed for pupils to hold their teachers to account. Posters adorn classrooms outlining each teacher's responsibilities to the children in their care. 'Students expect that teachers plan and deliver engaging lessons' is my personal favourite. If, incidentally, we're not living up to this expectation, our pupils are encouraged to complain and denounce us to the school authorities.

So our historic roles have been reversed. Children are now the ones in charge. We are effectively at their mercy, subjected to punishment if we break the new rules. The result is anarchy, endemic violence and daily abuse as pupils revel in their newly found power. It really is a dystopian nightmare reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Two years ago, I suffered an attack of Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular heart rate that, according to the doctors, was at least partially caused by the stress of work. Teaching has certainly taken its toll on my health and well-being.

Meanwhile, the Government does nothing except spout endless platitudes reassuring us that we can use 'reasonable' force - whatever that is - and stop and search those suspected of carrying knives. I just spat out my tea laughing at that one. When will we wake up?!

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