It’s not me, it’s them

Ah, the inextricable link between teaching and behaviour. I can’t help but feel that there continues to be an element of “blame” put on classroom teachers regarding the behaviour of the pupils in their charge. Plenty of teachers will have spent much of their own time this weekend poring over lesson plans and re-thinking learning activities, all in the vain hope that “pupil Y” will engage with their lesson, the next time. This idea of great teaching bringing about great behaviour is STILL being spouted by some leaders in schools. The “if you build it, they will come” fallacy is what’s keeping teachers working weekends, evenings, perfecting resources and materials. It’s as ridiculous as it is dangerous. Many teachers, especially those inexperienced and new to the profession, will no doubt have quite a few lessons where things go wrong and learning will go out the window because Pupil Y won’t stop calling out or distracting others (probably for the 5th lesson in a row no doubt). Then, a “helpful” mentor or HOD or SLT will probably say to them “well what was your lesson about? Why do you think it didn’t engage Pupil Y?” and then said teacher will go off to reflect and no doubt agonise over the blame and stay up all hours trying to make something “fun” so that Pupil Y stays on task and doesn’t ruin the next lesson. All the while nothing changes. Pupil Y chooses to misbehave because they can. Because the school allows it. This is all wrong.

I think back to my own schooling, I mean, we had some ridiculously boring lessons, lessons which today would no doubt get the experienced teacher “capability” and a 4 from from Ofsted. I don’t really recal massive efforts being made to “engage” me.  One teacher I remember in particular, would teach us Geography just by writing our notes on the whiteboard. I’m not kidding, she would write out paragraphs and we copied down everything. I can remember we would try to predict the next word (especially some of us keen and fast writers) and admittedly, it was as dull as dishwater. Anyways, I digress. So, why did we comply? Why wasn’t there a Pupil Y ready to throw something when her back was turned, as it was often, as she was writing essays for goodness sake! No one did! Why? Because WE were too sh**-scared to even think about messing around! We knew the Head teacher would give us a real dressing down, we knew we didn’t want to get sent out (the horror!) we knew detentions were bad, as they were scarce, they sounded scary and boring and our parents were informed. We knew that getting into trouble was something which shouldn’t happen, because the boundaries and culture of the school was that the Teachers were in charge and woe betide you if you didn’t figure this out sharpish. As a result, we got on with our learning. We didn’t have distractions. We stood up behind our seats when ANY member of staff entered the room (some at the back would scramble for their blazers at this point too). This was the culture. It was about respect for the adults. We weren’t the ones in charge. It might seem “old-fashioned” nowadays but it didn’t do us any harm. I don’t remember ever feeling like I hated school, in fact, I loved it. I loved the discipline, the rules, the boundaries, the learning. It made us feel safe. I felt safe.

So how do we fix things? Well, for a start, we could get away from the idea that “outstanding lessons” bring about outstanding behaviour. Jeez, if it were that simple then teaching would be overrun with brilliant lessons and A*s would abound in every school. No, the behaviour needs to be sorted out first. You can’t get fantastic lessons if pupils don’t know where they stand or don’t respect that the Teacher in charge IS the one in charge. Stop going on courses promising “outstanding engagement” and start looking in-house, in school and getting clear, fair and robust behaviour management systems in place. SLT; please stop “blaming” your staff for causing the poor behaviour. Start helping staff by sharing information about “Pupil Y” and the external influences which could be hindering the excellent behaviour of which they can be capable. Get experienced staff helping more with pupils who require extra support. Don’t lower your expectations of behaviour because of SEN or other factors, take them into account, of course, but support that student to reach their potential as you would everyone else.

The kind of teacher I am confident being now, is one where I expect every pupil to behave well, whether we are using the Chromebooks or I’m doing a dictation. They’re kids. They’ll make mistakes. However, it’s BECAUSE I have high expectations of them that I won’t allow them to belittle themselves and just accept misbehaviour, because “that’s the way they are”. No. It’s only now that I don’t blame myself the way I used to as an NQT. I can recall hours spent into the night, trying to create active learning resources, games and “fun” things which would help the lesson go more smoothly. Invariably, doing this only had limited success. I can remember the heartbreak of seeing my “quiz quiz trade” cards being ripped up by the naughty kids in the corner, who just didn’t want to be involved in the lesson. The students that I couldn’t engage in French, didn’t engage in Maths or English. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my teaching. It was more than me. I didn’t get much support from the SLT in that school and so I left. Inevitably, those students left school too, but not with great grades in any subjects. See, when behaviour isn’t sorted out, nobody wins.

The number of teachers I know personally, really, genuinely, want to just get on and teach their lessons. They don’t actually want to get into arguments with kids or have them hate their lesson. They, naturally, want to engage pupils and see them achieve. But when it goes wrong, they need support, instead of being made to feel that they must keep behaviour issues within the constraints of their own classroom walls. However, the outside support doesn’t always happen because it’s much easier to “blame” the adult for the situation than it is to look deeper into the real issues. However, years of us doing this across many schools in the UK is why teachers are starting to feel worn down by the demands of this job. It’s. Not. Us. It’s not our fault. It still infuriates me to hear of schools who lay the responsibility for pupil behaviour at the door of the classroom teacher. This “well what have YOU done about it?” attitude towards pupil disruption is toxic to teacher morale and the status of the profession as a whole. Behaviour is the school’s issue. It’s the Management’s issue. It’s inherent in everything the school is and does. If the behaviour is not right, nothing will go right.

Anyways, if you’ve gotten this far, I thank you for reading. So, let’s get behaviour right.  If you have a “bad” lesson, breathe, realise it’s ok to think to yourself, “maybe it wasn’t me”. And call in backup. Accept nothing less. And don’t ruin your weekend making any extra resources loosely based on something that today’s students might vaguely be interested in (Pokémon Go, I’m looking at you here- but that’s a whole other blog 😉 )

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