Stop blaming teachers

It’s my own fault that I’m sat here typing this, I know I shouldn’t ever read anything by Amanda Platell because she’s just a typically simplistic Daily Mail writer to whom everything is easily explained away with a few right-wing cliches. She starts with Jamie Oliver’s Dream School and explains that all of the kids behaved badly because they are the ‘the victims of the liberal educationalists whose obsession with ‘child-centred -learning’ has destroyed their futures’.

Like most right-wing journalists she considers this to be an absolute truth and therefore feels no need to provide any evidence or indeed explanation as to how exactly this is the case. It never seems to occur to people like Platell that child-centred-learning was created to tackle ongoing attainment problems in schools, not to create them. The education system has always failed a certain amount of children – the only real debate has been whom to blame, the school or the parents. Teaching methods have evolved (for the better in my opinion) but better teaching is only half of the problem: you cannot teach when the class does not want to learn and makes teaching impossible.

Platell kind of addresses this point, but only in a typically tabloid-shallow way:

they respect no one and nothing.

They know no boundaries, because no teacher or parent has ever tried to impose them.

I get incredibly frustrated when teachers are accused – as a homogeneous group – as never having tried to impose discipline in the classroom. Not all teachers have great classroom management skills (it is something that is difficult to learn during teacher training), some teachers are not great at setting boundaries and sticking to them and some teachers are overly aggressive which creates just as many problems as being overly lenient. Managing a classroom is a balancing act, especially when you have 30 students of differing abilities, attitudes and backgrounds all vying for different kinds of attention. Remember, you might have started teaching because you had a passion for your subject that you wanted to impart to others, not because you wanted to win constant battles with varied groups of students. However, all schools have clear rules which are enforced as much as realistically possible, but given that you cannot use force to make children comply there will always be occasions when it is impossible to control a child who does not want to behave. The accusation that no teachers have ever tried to impose boundaries is not just utterly wrong, but insulting.

From a sociological point of view it is the role of parents to instill basic social skills into children. Functionalism suggests that every human being is a mere resource that is raised to perform a certain function in society. The school is the institution which divides the children into different sets based on ability which directs them into different job roles in adult life, it is also the place where children learn to obey those in authority without question – it is the first situation in which children learn that the many should always obey the few in power. However, the schools cannot perform this function unless the child has already learnt basic socialisation skills from its family and immediate peers. It is these role models that teach (or fail to teach) manners, respect and basic obedience – it is the parent’s role in a functionalist society. If a child is not taught these behaviours then they immediately encounter problems entering and functioning in a more social environment – and teachers for example have trouble controlling them – after all, if a child has no respect for their own parents / family, then what chance does a teacher responsible for 30 children in a classroom stand of instilling such behaviours in the child?

Behaviours are something we learn, they are not something we are born with. A child cannot be blamed for being raised in a family that fails to instill socially acceptable behaviours, anymore than a child can be blamed for being born into a family of extreme privilege. It is time to stop blaming the education system and realising that society as a whole needs to come to terms with an underclass of families who are trapped in vicious circles of bad parenting. You don’t give a chef a pile of rotting vegetables and expect them to make a Michelin star dish, but for some reason the right-wing press expects schools to take any given child and achieve the same positive outcomes. It’s impossible.

Anyway, I had never even meant to talk about that aspect of her drivel, I had wanted to talk about her little aside on multiculturalism. There is nothing more depressing than someone in the right-wing media repeating the lie that BNP support is driven by ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and the pressures this supposedly places on social services and employment. I’ve covered this before, so, having written the above I won’t repeat it here, so if you want a rebuttal of this, you can read it here.

Flicking through the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail gleefully reported the comments of Tony McGuirk – chief fire officer of Merseyside, salary: over £200,000 a year – accusing the public sector of being ‘Riddled with the bone idle’. Given that the Daily Mail pays columnists such as Richard Littlejohn nearly a million pounds a year for churning out 1 or 2 lazily written and rehashed columns a week it all seems a bit hypocritical.

Show me a public sector worker who earns anywhere near what Littlejohn does simply by flicking though the Daily Mail or his email inbox for source material before cobbling it together in a few minutes and I’ll concede that Tony McGuirk has a point.

Meanwhile Facebook gets yet another headline mention: ‘Facebook and internet “can re-wire your brain”‘. The article is based on the opinion of one expert who does not appear to mention Facebook at all and actually suggests that using computers for such a large percentage of our lives must have a neurological impact and should be studied. She makes it clear that what she is giving is merely an opinion and uses words like ‘may’ a lot and calls for research to be undertaken. Yet the Daily Mail is quite happy to slap another completely misleading headline at the top of it, along with the obligatory mention of Facebook.

Also in today’s Mail is a lot of detail on why acknowledging students with Special Educational Needs is a ‘con’ and a waste of ‘our’ money. This seems to me an odd assertion to make, given the carefully constructed media narrative that the tabloid press have created concerning the state of the nation’s youth. We are repeatedly told that here in ‘broken Britain’ the feral youth runs wild, unteachable, sex-obsessed and completely without any morals or ambition to achieve.

Yet, when this media narrative seems to be somewhat reflected in the education sector – the increasing need for social workers to have a function within schools, the need for classroom assistants to closely aid certain pupils and many more holistic support services designed to include those pupils who struggle to otherwise engage with mainstream education, then we are told that it is all a big con.

Suddenly the young people entering education are fine and instead it is ‘bad’ teachers that are merely labelling students as SEN because they cannot teach properly. Having worked fairly extensively in education I’m becoming increasingly frustrated on the expectations placed upon teachers. Teaching should primarily be about passing on a subject specialist knowledge as specified by the relevant curriculum. This is to be achieved with the necessary classroom management skills, as well as the ability to build a good rapport with individual students to give them the chance and inspiration to succeed.

At what point did it become acceptable to expect teachers to fulfill their job role with students who have absolutely no respect for teachers, the school or anyone in any position of authority? I’m getting pretty sick of the whole mantra that ‘a good teacher can teach anyone’. You try it, I dare you. Go into an inner city school and get called a ‘cunt’ frequently by 12 year olds who then inform you: ‘what are you going to do about it, if you touch me I’ll get you sacked’.

Teaching is a unique industry in that people expect any old shit poured into the system to come out a well-balanced, well educated person. We don’t give chefs piles of rotten manure and expect them to turn it into something tasty, we don’t give house-builders a pile of rotten wood and expect them to turn it into a mansion. But we do expect teachers to turn any student – no matter how abused, socially, emotionally and educationally stunted they might be – into a citizen capable of a productive working life.

Well, teachers cannot perform miracles anymore than a chef or housebuilder. We all work with the raw materials we are given. Certainly, a good chef, builder or teacher can get more out of the raw materials than a bad one, but this is no longer about maximising potential, rather it has become about educating those not capable of integrating into mainstream education. If you dare attempt to bring in the staff and expertise to help such students survive – let alone prosper – in mainstream education the Daily Mail will run lots of stories about how you’re wasting the taxpayer’s money on a big con.

There seems to be something very wrong in the world when we shoulder teachers – who let’s not forget have to spend four years in University to earn a starting wage of around £21,000 a year – with the responsibility of not just stretching the brightest pupils, but also lifting up pupils whose home life has left them emotional wrecks without the ability to participate in the educational process. That the Daily Mail decides it is a important piece of journalism to savagely attack schools who try to bring in the right support – counsellors, Classroom Assistants (who earn a fraction of what they deserve for the difficult work they do) and relevant social services – for earning ‘in excess of £20,000’ when the Daily Mail is staffed by overpaid hypocrites who don’t understand a single thing about having a real job, is beyond tasteless.

We’re told all the time about how public sector staff wouldn’t last a minute in the ‘real world’ of private sector work, well, how about we turn this around: how many public sector employers would employ the dishonest, lazy, uneducated ‘journalists’ that fill tabloid newspapers each day with bile and bullshit in equal measure. Every single teacher I know could sit at a desk bending statistics until they proved that the whole world was being taken over by burka-clad Muslims, or write a few sentences on how a celebrity was looking good / fat / thin / old / young. Let’s face it, the majority of work a journalist does these days is copy and pasting from another news website or a press agency, or a press release. Their worst work can happily be hidden behind the ‘Daily Mail Reporter’, so they don’t even have to acknowledge what a soul-destroying existence they have working for a tabloid editor.

If anyone reading this has the power to create a TV documentary that could put some Daily Mail journalists – or even better, some of their moralising ‘we know best’ columnists – undercover into a tough secondary school for a short spell of teaching practice, then please make this happen.

The Misery of the Daily Mail

With all the faux-outrage over the mythical banning of England shirts and flags you’d think the Daily Mail would be behind one school’s plans to close early on June 23rd so that students can make it home in time for the 3pm kick-off. But they’re not: ‘School to close early … so the pupils can watch England play‘:

A school has angered parents by revealing plans to close early to allow pupils to watch a World Cup game.

Headmaster Neil Strowger has agreed to shorten lessons and bring forward a GCSE exam to enable his 1,200 pupils to get home in time for kickoff.

The controversial decision was taken after a request from pupils who are given a say in the running of their school through its Student Voice.

This is why it annoys me when politicians or anyone else tries to make decisions that will please the likes of the Daily Mail: it is a fruitless and pointless task. If the school had told 1,200 pupils they could not leave early to watch the game the Daily Mail would no doubt have attacked the school for ‘crushing patriotism’ or ‘English culture’. Yet, if the school shortens lessons and works to meet both the educational needs of the students and their desire to finish early for one day of the school year to watch an England match then they get outraged over that. Considering the World Cup is only every four years it really is a pathetic attack from the Daily Mail.

Naturally the Daily Mail get a quote from rent-a-gobshite Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education (who, like all organisations run by half-wits have a terrible website): ‘This is totally irresponsible. Schools have a responsibility to operate as normal unless there are exceptional circumstances that require them to close.’ Parents are also angry because they claim ‘that they are being forced to sort out unnecessary childcare arrangements’; even though the headmaster has clearly stated that ‘the school plans to run activities for pupils requiring supervision due to parents’ work commitments’.

All in all it seems like a sensible decision, lessons are 5 minutes shorter and one exam is being slightly brought forward. Students still attend the same amount of lessons and if their parents cannot pick them up or be at home to receive them at that time then the school has activities and supervision arranged. Those that can get home can support England in a world cup that comes around once every four years (assuming that they even qualify). Considering how the Mail constantly lambastes the ‘nanny state’, the lack of ‘common sense’, the health and safety ‘killjoys’ and the PC brigade sucking all the fun out of childhood and life in general you’d think they’d be really supportive of this decision.

But no, because the Daily Mail’s job is to criticise everything irrespective of whether, logically, they should really be writing a positive article.