28 January 2013

Teaching

Arguably, I was born to be a teacher. Not in a stable but in the front bedroom of a Yorkshire schoolhouse - my father being the headmaster of the village school. Not long after I first learnt to walk, I would toddle next door and roam from classroom to classroom like the school mascot.

At Christmastime, when I was fifteen, I even filled in for the school caretaker - who was poorly - scrubbing every classroom floor and polishing all the windows. At eighteen, as I have blogged before, I was successful in my application to become a Voluntary Service Overseas teacher and was posted to Fiji. Upon my return, I completed a joint honours degree in English Studies and Education in Scotland before working for thirty two years in three South Yorkshire secondary schools.

Such an illustrious career! But towards the end of it, teaching could sometimes be like minding prisoners, spoilt brats or lunatics. You had to work so hard to keep your ship afloat and frequently potentially wonderful and well-planned lessons could be scuppered by reluctant, recalcitrant and downright lazy kids whose manners were sometimes quite appalling. I could tell you such stories of the sheer crap I had to endure just to get that monthly salary payslip.
Kids turning up ten minutes late for lessons without explanation or apology. Dozens of kids without pens or schoolbags. Kids answering mobile phones in lessons. Kids storming between classrooms to pick fights. Kids swearing like troopers. Kids stealing keys, DVDs, library books. Kids flicking to computer games when "working" on computers. Truants returning suddenly after three weeks off and saying a little angrily, "I don't know what we're doing!" Kids fighting. Kids plastering wads of chewing gum under their tables. Kids so lazy that sometimes you'd be lucky to get a five sentence paragraph out of them in forty minutes of "work". Kids whose homework performance was so poor that there was no way you could blend homework tasks with classroom activities - it just wouldn't work. I could go on and on but I won't...

Instead let's flick to Bangkok on a typical Tuesday in late January and let's focus on my Year 10 class - aged fourteen and fifteen. I have set them a research task which will transform into a "speaking and listening" presentation. They have to stand at the front and talk for two minutes about a particular country that I have told them to investigate for homework.

They have all done the homework. They all have memory sticks or "flash drives" containing their background Powerpoint slides. They all have bags and pens - and smiles of course. They all applaud their classmates both before and after their speeches. They all answer my supplementary questions. They all do their best and there is absolutely no fuss. No one is saying, "I'm not doing it!" or "I weren't here when it was set!" and no one is mocking or disrespectful. Okay they are a bit nervous about the task but nobody is backing out because this is what the teacher has told you to do so you do it. You just get on with the job like a proper student.

Proper student - yes, that's a term I often used in Sheffield when troubleshooting for other harassed teachers. Sit down. Listen to what you have to do and get on with it to the best of your ability - like a proper student. Good heavens, these friendly, focussed Thai children could teach many English kids a thing or two and if our children conducted themselves like my Thai pupils there'd be no need for highly paid teams of school inspectors to tour Britain  "kicking ass" in the name of higher standards. You can lead horses to water but you cannot make them drink.

8 comments:

  1. It's the saddest thing ever in present day Britain that teachers have to spend so much of their time struggling to get youngsters who thing the world owes them a living to value education and make the most of it. Hell would freeze over before I would ever have set foot in a secondary school classroom and I hear many a similar story to yours from Younger Daughter. I'm so pleased that you are experiencing what the job should be like now, YP.

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  2. You see, Sir Pud, we are considered Crusty Old Farts. The 'modern' way is to allow children to find their own way, not to interfere (we would call it guiding) with their development.

    When I was sent to school in UK I was shocked. In Germany, when the teacher walked into the classroom, God help us, we were all present and we stood up until he told us to sit down again. No child ever spoke out of turn and if the teacher addressed us, we stood up.

    There was absolutely no playground bullying so you can imagine how shocked I was to arrive in UK and discover that one of the favourite sports was Paki Bashing, quickly modified after my arrival to Nazzi Bashing.

    What a relief, therefore when, having joined the Army, I was introduced to AMI, the Army Method of Instruction which relied on discipline and EDI: Explanation Demonstration & Imitation.

    Isn't that little more than the learning by rote so despised by the trendy lefty yoghurt knitting tree hugger modernists? I failed my maths A level twice. In the Army I came top of my class at the Royal Military College of Science, a course which included nuclear physics and ballistics. Think of the maths involved with that.

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  3. It's the reason most of the top students in our universities are Asian students. If you have to go to a hospital here chances are your doctor will be Asian or Indian. Clever people obviously but also students who know how to work hard and apply themselves.... and so they reap the rewards.

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  4. What are we doing wrong pud?
    Are we doing anything wrong?
    Everything seems too easy in this nanny state of ours.
    Perhaps a little more poverty and a little more gratitude for things is in order?
    I despair for us sometimes my friend x

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  5. As a person who has raised children, taught children, loves children, I have many theories about today's children and their education or lack thereof. Number one....respect. In this country, I believe children lost respect for teachers when the teachers allowed children to use their first names, when teachers showed up to teach in jeans and flip-flops, which to me shows a lack of respect for their profession and for the children. And where is the community? Why are the parents and the community not demanding that high standards and properly educated students be a part of the life of their village/town/city? Sometimes I think I would like to pass a new law. Troubled kids and teens, instead of being incarcerated, should be shipped (along with their parents) to a country where kids have little material wealth. But, those children have a thirst for learning and a respect for elders and teachers that is moving and heartening to say the least. Perhaps, those troubled teens could learn a new respect for parents and teachers....and themselves.

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  6. I think it's interesting that the problems are the same in the U.K, Australia, and the U.S. I got around it by homeschooling my son through his high school years and not letting him be a part of the impolite, nasty mouthed culture of our public high schools. When I went to school many years ago, teachers were respected because they could (and would) swat you with a yardstick. I don't think it's just a liberal thing, Hippo, some of the worst kids here belong to right wing rednecks. The farm kids are usually the good ones. They know what real work is.

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  7. I am a teacher in Australia and will add your blog to my reading list. Best Wishes!

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  8. As I sit down on a Sunday afternoon in Cairns to plan my lessons for the week ahead, I was just scanning back to read about your camera thieves and found this post again. On reading it a second time I can't but identify with the scenario you paint of student in the UK. Not unlike those in Oz. But I live in hope that I can make individual incremental improvements with my students whilst being monitored by the explicit teaching task force that thinks it is all up to US as teachers to make a difference. I think the problem goes further than the classroom why education is no longer valued in our Western societies. I don't have the answers unfortunately ~ but will continue to trouble shoot the problems that turn up in my classroom. Thank you for your analysis Sir YP!

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.