Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Skool Discipline part 2

The Scotsman carries this today, with the teachers' unions warning that Scotland's schools are facing "breakdown" after the Executive's own figures showed a shortage of almost 800 teachers, with around 335 posts remaining vacant for over three months. The problem is set to get worse : over 50% of Scotland's teachers are set to retire in the next ten years. If you consider that someone like me - replete with the grey hair, the alcoholism, and the distressed wardrobe - is inaccurately, but routinely, described as a "young man", you'll begin to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Now, what could possibly be putting people off this wonderful and fulfilling profession? Perhaps it's this; not only are teachers apparently too knackered to pursue romantic liasons - it seems that our profession is a distinct disadvatage in the mating game, with 1 in ten women and 15% of men saying that their jobs have scared off potential partners.

More likely it's the actual conditions of the job. The Scotsman piece quotes James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tories’ education spokesman, as saying "the Executive will fail to retain teacher numbers while a school staff member is attacked every 12 minutes in Scotland".

Hmmm, the problem with these discussions is that they focus too much on the extreme end of the discipline scale. The rising incidence of teachers being assualted is of course a serious issue, which I'll return to in a mo' - but I think most teachers would agree it's all the low-level nonsense that we have to put up with on a day to day, period by period basis - this is what wears you down. Too much is taken up every day arguing about the basics. I mean, barring attendance, one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing - excepting obvious infractions of the rules, such as arson, murder etc. - is compulsory when it comes to education these days.

One of the most frustrating things about this job is the failure, so often, for teachers and their unions to make a left-wing case about some of this garbage we have to put up with. On the question of assaults against staff, for instance, although I don't have the data available I bet a majority of them have been perpetuated against female teachers. Although unscientific, that's certainly been my experience; of the seven teachers who have told me recently that they've been victims of assault, six of them have been women. The reason, as most observant teachers will tell you, is pretty straightforward: with so little in the way of formal sanctions, teacher discipline lies largely in the perception of the pupils towards them - and this is where sexist stereotypes can become self-fufilling; female teachers often have more problems because a significant number of their charges perceive them to be less disciplinarian before they've even walked in the classroom for the first time.

Now, if this has been raised by the EiS or SSTA formally, I apologise in advance but in my experience - at staff and union meetings convened to address this and the general problem of discipline - what one tends to get instead is the vocal contributions of the "he's alright when he's with me" brigade. For those of you who aren't teachers, I think you'd be unpleasantly surprised at just how many of my fellow professionals prefer to make themselves or their departments look good at someone else's expense, rather than stand by their comrades who might be struggling at the chalk face.

I don't hesitate in describing such people as part of the problem, particularly if they're in management positions - which they so often are. They're part of the problem because those who profess never to have any problems with a given class or pupil are often macho dickheads who are so thick that they don't realise their "techniques" can't be employed by the nearly 60% of our secondary staff who are women; because they are also often obsequious, ass-kissing functionaries who profess to care about the children when the only thing they care about is career-building; because those they pick on to make themselves look good are invariably those in the weakest positions - supply-teachers, probationers, students and so forth.

These people should be ashamed of themselves and desperately need to be challenged. It really gets up my nose when apologists for the on-going Lord of the Flies situation in our schools do so in the name of "equality" or "socialism". As far as I've been able to see, the policy of allowing a handful of badly-behaved pupils to routinely disrupt the learning process and paying a bunch of bureaucrats and wannabe social workers to spout low-grade management-speak to justify this in the name of "social inclusion" is at best a force for the status-quo; at worst it's actually exacerbating the situation.

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