Tough Love

Last week I finally returned to work. After nearly six months off, I at last felt emotionally and physically able. I was also feeling a bit isolated from the world of teaching, and anxious to be ‘back among it’

I still believe I was right to return. My legs haven’t given me too much trouble, and I’ve tried to avoid the worst of the morning traffic by setting off for work at a dark, obscenely early time. So far the plan’s working – I arrive at school early enough to drink coffee and do a bit of leisurely planning.

In addition to all this, we have a new staff team. There is only me, my job share partner one TA and the centre manager left from our team last year. The rest have been moved on to other centres, and a couple have found new jobs.

The new team are supportive, friendly and welcoming, they have all done their very best to help me to ease back in. They are also all acutely aware that the kids view me as a ‘newbie’ and I’m grateful that they go out of their way to set them straight!

Sadly, they are also angry and exasperated. For the first day or so I could tell they were wary of sharing their concerns with me. It’s understandable: they didn’t know me very well, and clearly weren’t sure what position I would take.

The source of their concern became apparent to me on Tuesday – my first full day of teaching. In the second lesson of the day, I reprimanded a girl for sucking her thumb and being generally rude and dismissive towards me. In response to this, she pushed her desk out of the way and stamped out of class, shouting, “fuck this shit” and banging the door behind her.

For this, I wanted every second of that lesson back, plus a full apology and possibly a meeting with her mother. I did not want her returned to the lesson (or any of my lessons) until the matter was fully resolved. She was returned to class soon after. Nothing else happened.

Later that same morning, I had another English lesson. From the beginning of the lesson, it was clear that two particular boys were uncooperative (to say the least). In fact, they wouldn’t even sit down. When they did finally sit, they persisted in talking over me, laughing, swearing and generally being obnoxious in the extreme. I used our ‘on call’ system and a deputy came and removed one of the boys. After a short while she returned with him, pronouncing him, ‘ready to work’. In fact, he was anything but. Between them, the boys managed to destroy the entire lesson.

I kept the boys in at lunchtime and managed to get a minimal amount of completed work from both of them. However, I wanted the matter to be followed up. I wanted there to be a further sanction (whatever form it might take) in order to be crystal clear that such conduct is entirely unacceptable. Nothing further happened.

Yesterday, I taught a girl who, despite being very able, chose to write a completely inappropriate poem. I wanted her to stay in with me after school until she had completed the task to a standard that was acceptable. She refused, and was allowed to go home. I was advised to fill in an incident report. So far, nothing further has happened.

This morning, I asked to meet with our centre manager, I told the manager in question that I was concerned about the discipline systems. By way of a lead in, I asked her what would happen now I had written an incident report on that particular girl. I was assured that it would be followed up. I mentioned my current vulnerability – I talked about the months of rehab that I’ve had on my legs, I said that could all be undone with a single kick, or a desk being flung. I was advised that if children are misbehaving I should continue to remove them by using the on call system. I asked about pupils being returned to class, despite not being ready to work, I was advised to use the system and get them out again. I asked about further sanctions, and, alarmingly, was told that for two of the pupils in question there is no mileage in informing the parents. I asked about detentions and was told that we wouldn’t get permission. When I ventured that we don’t need permission for detentions the baffling response was, “I’m fully aware of that, thank you”. Right.

The concluding blow for me was being told that “this is the nature of the kids we work with” and “I don’t want you to take any more time off, but if you have to…”

This week has proven to me the importance of strong leadership. In our setting, we are all highly skilled at behaviour management, but we need to be able to punish kids who are persistently disruptive or behave dangerously. Without a hierarchy of sanctions in place, we are utterly impotent. This is why the team is angry. Now they are aware of my stance, they tell me, “we aren’t allowed to discipline the kids”

As one of my colleagues said yesterday afternoon, these kids need discipline and boundaries above all else. He’s right. It is their behaviour that has got them removed from mainstream school. Our purpose, our single raison d’être, is to break the cycle of inappropriate conduct and return these kids to mainstream education. Appeasement, reasoning and rewards will only get you so far with the toughest nuts. They need strong guidance, and firm boundaries – tough love. As for me, I don’t need any more time off work, what I need is simply what we all need: to know that when we fall, when things don’t go well, someone will be there to help us sort it out. Without this guarantee, life is hard for us all.

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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11 Responses to Tough Love

  1. Penny says:

    This is very interesting in the light of the Too Tough To Teach programme I’ve been watching about Ian Mikardo school in Tower Hamlets. They don’t use a sanction/reward policy, and I know there are lots of arguments against these. They seemed to have a lot of adults around though to pick up students who weren’t behaving acceptably, and the head teacher seemed very hands on in dealing with this, which makes a massive difference. I know a couple of people who have worked with them, they said that the staff also have a lot of support themselves, emotionally, to be able to work in this way – with regular and effective supervision for staff. I worry that the idea of no sanctions will be picked up and used in a half arsed way which will make life in the classroom almost impossible for the teacher, yet again. Also, Ian Mikardo still seemed very clear on the boundaries it set for students and staff spent a lot of time reinforcing and explaining these to students, just not through the use of sanctions. Better in the long run for challenging students but needs very careful thinking through and good structures of other sorts of support in place to make it work. I hope things improve for you, I can completely imagine your frustration….

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    • cazzypot2013 says:

      Thanks for your comment, Penny. I can’t speak with any authority on Mikado methods, as I only watched that one prog we discussed. I agree with you, though, it could well be using methods which may be incorrectly adopted by other schools. Thanks again, all feedback is very much appreciated.

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  2. Toby says:

    It’s out of the frying pan into the fire. I think you should take this as high up the DfE food chain you can. Glad to see you blogging again too.

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  3. 4c3d says:

    Building relationships is one of the hardest things we have to do as teachers, especially where there is mistrust and anxiety. It’s a slow process and one that takes a great amount of energy, support and patience. I have coached and supported teachers who have been in this position, as I have been myself, and I know how long it takes and what it takes out of you. Each day can become a battle, one you may feel you are loosing and have no support in.

    There a few strategies that work so long as you change the battle lines and recognise the behaviour towards you (not at you) is a symptom of something more fundamental to the learner, that of not having their needs met. You can not meet all of their needs but you can work on meeting four which are related to learning and through this their behaviour. Check out he work of William Glasser and Choice Theory. If you want a more succinct version with practical teaching help and examples then I have an e-book I have written as part of my work in supporting teachers and those that work with learners. It is called “Understanding Learning Needs” (£4.95 – so the cost of a couple of cups of coffee) and is available for instant download. It is written in a way for you to use every day, to carry with you and to make notes in, a working document and not “bookshelf furniture”.
    If you want the link I will give it to you.

    My first piece of advice is always to get out and about. Be seen with other staff around the school, meet and observe the students outside of the classroom (coming in in the morning, in the recreation areas, at lunch time and after school as they leave).

    Secondly learn their names and find something out about each one. Ask other staff, listen and ask the students themselves.

    I hope that helps a little.

    My contact details are kevin@ace-d.co.uk
    A link to an article about the e-book and meeting the four learning needs is: http://wp.me/p2LphS-4

    Kev

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    • cazzypot2013 says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kev. As I have 19 years experience with behavioural kids, and have also advised and assisted other teachers in behaviour management techniques, I think it’s fair to say that if any standard BM techniques were workable, they’d be in use. The fact is that these are PRU kids, some have been repeatedly excluded from mainstream ed. Many of these kids have so many external problems that impact hugely on their ability to manage their emotions. My argument in the blog is that these kids – perhaps more so than other kids – need firm boundaries. My issue is that I don’t feel that they currently have these boundaries in our setting. I can’t enforce much without the support and backing of our management team, therefore we are all unable to make little impact on their behaviour. You are correct to point out how vital it is to build strong relationships with these kids. Thank you again for your detailed comment, all feedback is very welcome.

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      • 4c3d says:

        Oops! – Granny and eggs comes to mind!

        How to move forward? I can see you do not believe that there are firm boundaries for these children. Is there a “Behavior Policy” in place and if there is has it been written specifically for these children or is it a generic version? I would be interested to know.

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  4. cazzypot2013 says:

    I’m going to look again at the behaviour policy to see if it was changed while I was absent from work. I’ll let you know what it says…
    Thanks again, Kev.

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  5. I’m totally with you, cazzypot. 😉 XXX

    Glad that you’re back on your feet!

    Like

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