Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Discipline and despair

Classroom 404
Originally uploaded by raymond_kram.
I’m going to drift away from specifically English teaching comment today to take a wander into the area of discipline – or rather indiscipline. I’m thinking of the kind of class that makes a young, talented teacher despair after a few years in the job and decide that she simply can’t put up with low-level indiscipline for another forty years. The kind of S2 class where some little madam thinks it’s ok to say “no” when the teacher tells her to get on with some work, and where a handful of such children can ruin the learning experience for the others and the rest of the day for the teacher.

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?


  1. Anonymous5:10 PM

    I know that having a good PT will be important to me when I go into probation next year, for this reason.

    In my subject (technical) things usually work differently from other parts of the school and it is very difficult to use the same array of techniques that work in other departments and having another Technical teacher around is a must sometimes, for even the experienced teachers.

    What will make it harder is when faculty heads become the norm if I have to refer a pupil to someone more senior then I would likely have to send them to a Home Economics teacher. The problem here is, without meaning any disrespect to HE teachers, technical departments run totally differently from other departments and need a different approach to sorting out discipline which people from outwith the dept don't have.

    I can't see the faculty system staying with us for very long - for all it saves money in salary, it will lose staff in the way you talk about, and when students come there won't be any staff with time to spend with them.

  2. "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."

    I see what you are saying here, but unfortunately this is absolutley frowned upon now! Apparently you are a "weak" teacher if you remove disruptive children for other people to handle. Althought I don't really agree with this, I do think that, if I was in a situation where a pupil from another class was brought into mine, I'd be rather a bit annoyed because then it becomes *my* inconvenience and would therefore disrupt *my* class.

    I do agree with the whole 'three warnings thing'. I try to avoid it like the plague, but then I get shouted at by PTs and the like for not adhearing to the school's policy. But why should I do it? It doesn't work for me as a teacher because I cannot work in a robotic manner.

    I also completely hate this idea of not humiliating the child who humiliates you. I'm sorry, and I know people may completely disagree with this, but if you make a fool out of them (within reason) it is guaranteed they won't do it again! For example - I am always met with some ruddy child saying "Sir... Are you gay?" My reply is always "No, why? Do you have some sort of Homosexual fantasy you would like to share with the rest of the group?" Now... that has happened on every single school visit I have been involved in and when my method of control is used, it never happens again. Why? Because the disruptive pupil knows i have the potential to make him look a complete arse. Who did I learn that from? My teachers at school and by God it worked for them...

    Chris, excuse the above rant, but this is something I have been arguing about recently. Discipline is, to quote the lecture, "complete crap" these days. Yet... we still haven't been told the most effective method. Have you read the book "teaching as a subversive activity" by Neil Postman? I picked it up and it is actually a really good read if you are into education and its arguments. Some of it is a bit radical, but very good to bring yourself to place an argument for or against!

  3. "Apparently you are a "weak" teacher if you remove disruptive children for other people to handle."
    This is patently nonsense - and is as old as the hills. I did it for years; so did the PT I worked with. I rest my case ;-)

  4. Chris, yup - I totally agree. But I still wouldn't want someone else's brought to me, unless, of course, I was the PT.

    ab - Ok, I understand what you are saying, but I'm not convinced. Maybe I gave a bad example and maybe the word "humiliate" is rather strong. But... I still stand by it, i'm afraid. I would have explained my feelings further, but then, I would have put it on my own blog. Chris knows the kind of teacher I am and the kind of classroom dynamics I work under - so I posted this knowing that she would know what I meant by my comment. So - what did I learn? Always remember your audience.

    Anyway, sorry if I 'annoyed' you, but we'll just have to agree to disagree.

  5. Rant away, chaps - I always found a good rant from within the class made for a stimulating period!

    But I'm perturbed by the notion that it's still being taught that teachers have to operate on their own. I thought that had gone out with the Ark - belonging more to the days of the belt as final solution. Any teacher can find a situation which can be defused by the removal of a pupil - and any teacher, however junior, can supply the space for that because often all that's needed is an unfamiliar class.
    I used to be an effective belter - but found the solutions I've outlined just as effective in more recent times.

  6. Apparently teachers are not on their own, though. Most of the schools I have been in work on the policy of "assertive discipline," which I absolutely hate! Did you become involved in the joys of this while you were still at DGS? You must have, if you know about the 'three warnings' milarky.

    There are schools who have the last resort as 'send to faculty head' or 'Head Teacher.' Others use the 'Exclusion Unit," which I think is absolutley rediculous, to be honest. We are continually told about 'inclusion' in the classroom, but when it comes down to behaviour, we are expected to go through a process of exclusion - all very contradictory.

    And... what happens if you are faced with an S2 music class that decide to throw dairy products at their teacher? What do we do then? We cannot very well send 13 pupils to the 'sin-bin' can we? No wait a minute... it's the first time they've done it, so we'll just give them a verbal warning and bring it up with the PT - yeah right!

    Here's my theory:

    1. I think teachers, in teacher training, should be given a specific class on how to handle themselves in any given situation. A sort of role-play class, if you like. Afterall, teaching is about performance, more than anything. You don't perform, you don't receive attention. No attention, no-one learning!

    2. New teachers should be left on their own to work out what method of discipline works for them and should be incouraged, for the first few weeks, *never* to exclude anyone from the classroom. That way, if they sort the buggers out in-house, it lets the entire group know what is expected of them and the discipline procedure within their classroom.

    3. The oldest trick in the book - frighten the life out them for the first few weeks, then start to ease off. Don't know if I like this method that much but it works! I'm at an advantage in the drama room...

    4. Be consistent. If you make a threat, carry it out.

    Sorry, another rant! You probably think I have adopted the role of an Army sargeant but don't worry - nothing of the sort. I actually feel that discipline is the one area I am really good at and that was the one thing I got shining bright marks for (he toots his own horn). I state my classroom expectations on the first day and if they are broken, immediate action is taking. It's a training process for the class as well as the teacher...

    Think I might take on the subject of discipline for my dissertation. HHmmm

    Would you not rather operate on your own as a new teacher, just out of interest?

  7. Excuse the typos - too late to be thinking!

    PS - seriously, have you read "Teaching as a subversive activity"?

  8. Duffy, I notice from choir practice in DGS that they've resorted to one warning > move seat > outside > referral. I couldn't bear the assertive discipline structure.
    Some of your ideas are spot on, but I'd be wary of isolating yourself entirely simply because any teacher (including me) might need the back-up of an ally at any time. That's all.

  9. In that sense, I completely agree! Departments have to stick together. I suppose I am still in the mind set of my last placement which involved no support from PT or colleagues. So, therefore, I had to learn how to cope with discipline and the like on my own. I just need to learn to ask, I suppose!

    If you don't mind, I would like to print this page and bring it up at the next tutorial. Would you mind?

  10. Feel free - but I'd prefer you to include the original post rather than paraphrase it through resposes to it.

  11. I was going to use both, if that is ok? It may have gone out my head before Wednesday!

  12. Anonymous9:29 PM

    found your blog through Kelvin's.Youmight be interested in this one