Via John Ray’s Education Watch, this article from The Age about the damage caused by bad behaviour at school.
My wife is a teacher, as are many of my friends. Disruptive behaviour is endemic in Australian schools. Not the slightly cheeky, have a bit of fun at the teacher’s expense stuff that I remember, but outright bullying, and violent or abusive behaviour that means schools are not safe places for either students or staff.
There are many reasons for this decline in behaviour. One is poor behaviour by staff. You’ll see posters about bullying and class rules everywhere. But teachers often do not model safe, considerate behaviour. Teachers who are new or do not fit the mould are frequently isolated, denied access to resources, not given information about meetings or events, etc. Students see this behaviour from staff, so they assume it is all right, no matter what the posters say.
It’s more than just bullying of staff by staff of course. I have known teachers who get drunk on the weekends, get into fights, commit acts of vandalism, use drugs, and then turn up on Monday expecting their students to respect their authority and do what they are told.
Good teachers do model good behaviour, and try to make a difference by setting rules about acceptable behaviour and encouraging students to follow them. But they are frequently undermined by senior staff who are either lazy, or more concerned about their careers or placating parents than making classrooms places where real learning can take place.
Then there are ‘counselors’ who insist students should not have to face the consequences of their behaviour because they come from a ‘troubled background.’ Instead students who are disruptive, even violent, are pampered, given ‘supportive’ one on one attention, taken for treats, etc. Nonsense of course. Whatever your background or feelings, you are still responsible for how you act. Rewarding bad behaviour does even more to discourage the good students.
Students who by any standard should be suspended or expelled are not, because ‘We have a responsibility for them, and they have nowhere else to go.’ Yes, but schools also have an equal or even greater responsibility to the majority of students who want to listen, participate and learn. What about their rights, and the rights of teachers – the right to be able to learn and to teach in a safe environment? Those who are violent or abusive, even if it is true that ‘they have nowhere else to go’ can solve the problem any time they like simply by changing their behaviour. Conscientious students do not have that choice. They are stuck with the problem till someone fixes it.
It is absolutely true, as The Age article notes, that an unfair burden is placed on teachers, who are expected no longer just to teach (actually, I’m sure good teachers always expected to do more than just teach) but to ‘solve society’s problems,’ including diet, manners, self-esteem, etc.
If parents have not been willing or able to instil some sense of the value of learning, to teach good manners and respect for others, and to set and maintain fair boundaries for behaviour, then by the time a child gets to school it is probably too late. Children who won’t take responsibility or are angry, or see no point in being at school, frequently have parents who won’t take responsibility, or are angry, or see no point in education. So they are unlikely to be supportive of school or teacher efforts to get the child to do what they don’t value themselves, and will sometimes be actively hostile.
Good teachers will try to help. But constantly badly behaved children in a class take up a vastly disproportionate amount of a teacher’s time, which means less time for the good students, the ones who want to learn. Also, and obviously, the more time a teacher has to spend correcting and controlling bad behaviour, the less time there is to spend on teaching and learning, and the more difficult it is for a teacher to build a positive relationship with the class as a whole. And then, equally obviously, noisy, argumentative, rude or violent students create an environment which is not conducive to learning, either because other students (and often the teacher as well) do not feel safe, or simply because of constant noise and interruptions.
So yes, enough is enough.
Teachers and other staff are right to expect and demand that parents take more responsibility, both for teaching values and manners, and for correcting bad behaviour when it does occur. But the fact that many parents have not done so and won’t do so is at least partly the fault of teacher organisations, which have trodden over parents’ rights and concerns.
School documents may say parents are the primary teachers, and that the school works in partnership with them, but the reality is often very different. Parent concerns about curriculum are treated as a joke, and schools have insisted, often against strong resistance from parents, that they have a ‘duty’ to teach sex education, morals, politics, and ‘childrens rights’ – frequently in ways that parents find offensive or counter to their own values. So it is a bit rich for teacher organisations, which by their actions have told parents they are incompetent and should stay out, now to start blaming parents for not taking more responsibility.
I have often seen the signs at hospitals that say something like “We are obliged to provide a safe environment for patients and staff. Abusive behaviour will not be tolerated.”
If the same kind of zero tolerance policy were put in place at schools, if education departments took seriously their responsibility to provide a safe work environment for staff, and a safe learning environment for students, our schools would be very different.