Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Discipline and despair
I believe this is one area where a really good PT (subject) makes a huge difference. I don’t know what it’d be like if the line manager was a more distant figure in charge of several departments – I suspect there would be a dilution of effectiveness. But there are PTs who, as with subject teaching, regard the newly-qualified teacher as being on their own: shut the door, dish your own dirt, make your own discipline. Now, up to a point, that’s what you have to do. You can’t always rely on someone else to bark for you. But there are moments in the most experienced and most able classroom practitioners’s life when she simply has to get rid of a pupil or two so that order can prevail, and that’s where the sensitive and effective organisation of the departmental approach comes in.
I personally recommend the routine organisation of a department – or group of smaller departments – so that every teacher in it knows which colleague at any given moment is free to take in a single pupil or a couple at the most, to work in silence within another class – preferably of another year group. That benefits everyone, and means that every teacher has something to give as well as to receive.
However, there are other strategies which require more specific collaboration. When a class is divided between those who want to get on – with the teacher as well as the work – and those whose only intention is to disrupt and intimidate, it can be a good strategy to divide them physically. The first stage here is to remove the disruptors for one period to another room – preferably the PT’s – to work silently on relevant work which requires only close supervision. The class teacher then has the chance to demonstrate to the rest how a class could be when free from the disruption which has dominated it so far, and in so doing make progress in getting the majority “on side” and confident that in fact they are in the majority. Peer pressure to misbehave is lessened by this recognition, and can in fact be redirected towards the troublemakers.
On a subsequent period it may be possible to reverse the division and take the disruptors on their own - because they are (a) likely to be curious and (b) less likely to carry on without an audience. Whether or not this is done, the end move of this stage is to segregate the disruptors within the class – seated together, however unlikely this may seem – and to address only the cooperative pupils. If disruption occurs in the “ignored” side of the room it must be swiftly and dispassionately dealt with by class exclusion – because they are already at the stage of having been moved within the class. (The nonsense of “three verbal warnings” still seems to prevail in some schools – a management cop-out if ever there was one)
I’ve put all this down here because I happen to have been talking to the despairing young teacher I postulated at the start. This particular teacher is going to be a loss to secondary education – for she sees little future for herself in it. The solutions I suggest have worked for me over the past 10 years or so – but I worked in a department blessed by an extremely pro-active PT who would not allow her staff to suffer at the hands of ill-mannered pupils or ineffective senior management.
I know subject PTs are a dying breed, and I know that not every teacher plays the same cards in dealing with indiscipline – but is there a case in this area as well as in subject teaching for the kind of mentoring that protects the young teacher from the most irritating and soul-destroying aspect of the job? All you promoted staff out there – any comment?