27 December 2013

Detentions

Schoolchildren will often misbehave. That misbehaviour invariably impedes or undermines education. Levels and types of misbehaviour are more significant in schools that serve disadvantaged communities. When you are at the frontline trying to deliver a decent education, there are very few sanctions you can call upon to squash the misbehaviour. Most of the time you rely upon your wit and the force of your personality.

As Head of English in the last Sheffield secondary school where I worked, I was responsible for managing the department's detention system. This had to comply with whole school policy on detentions. When I look back, it all seemed so bizarre and a monument to cock-eyed modern notions of fairness. Ultimately, the people who were punished most were not the juvenile miscreants but teachers like myself who'd been given the poisoned corporate chalice by a headteacher and deputies who tried to wash their hands of it all while they got on with their "strategic planning" like generals in a faraway bunker.

It worked like this. Pupil A - who we will call Bob - is persistently late for English lessons. Miss Brodie has warned Bob that if he doesn't improve his punctuality he will be placed on detention. Bob continues to arrive late, bursting into lessons after Miss Brodie has settled the class and explained the day's work. 

Miss Brodie writes out a self-duplicating  pupil referral slip. One copy goes in English department files, another is sent to the Head of Year and another is sent to central school records. She ticks the box that indicates a detention will be given. Then she goes to the English office where she takes a standardised detention letter from the drawer. She fills it in and then goes to the reprographic room to have the letter copied. This will be done by the end of the school day when she will have to return to pick up the letter and its copy. (Teachers aren't allowed to use a photocopier themselves).

She finds Bob's home address in the computer system and writes it on an envelope, directing the photocopy to school files as the original now in its envelope is sent down to the main office for posting. Then Miss Brodie remembers to write details of Bob's detention notification in the English department detention book. 

Thursday is English detention day. We are not allowed to clash with other departments' detention times. On the allotted day for Bob's detention, I pick up the detention book and the referral files and head for my classroom which is where the detentions happen after school - but must not last longer than half an hour according to school policy. Mr Booth supervises the detentions with me. We are a double act.

Pupils B and C have arrived as requested. They had been fighting in the corridor outside Miss Riley's room. Pupil D refuses to do homework and she has also arrived. Pupil E who scrawled graffiti in permanent pen all over one of Miss Twigg's windows is characteristically away from school on the day of the detention and must be re-processed. Pupils F & G have arrived at the third time of asking for swearing at a member of staff some four weeks ago and they can hardly remember the incident. Pupil A - our Bob - was in school but failed to turn up so he must also be re-processed and put on detention next week. Miss Brodie will have to go through the rigmarole again and in the meantime Bob will no doubt continue to be late for lessons.

If a pupil fails to turn up for his/her English detention twice in a row, only then may we refer the child to Mr Weasel the deputy headteacher for a senior teachers' detention. Mr Weasel often sighs and looks skywards when the names of detention refusers are finally presented to him - as if to say - I thought we'd made a detention net that would avoid any of the miscreants arriving at my door. Given the system, it is often six weeks before the identified child is passed to Mr Weasel and in the meantime other wrongdoing will have probably happened.

It was all a maze - like something out of Franz Kafka. It seemed to be designed on behalf of the children - not the hard-pressed staff who coped with misbehaviour like firefighters day after day. When I first started teaching, it used to be that you could say to a naughty child - right, you're on detention after school today. No letters, no phone calls, no reply slips, no hoops to go through. It happened there and then. And when the child got home late, its parents would ask why and when they heard about the detention their instinct would be to back up the school and say to the child, "Well don't do that again then!"

There's more I could say about the details of that crazy detention system but I hope that this description has at least given you a sense of how stupid and frustrating it all was. Of course, in the school in Bangkok, Thailand where I recently worked for a total of a year, I didn't need to put a single pupil on detention. There was no need to. They were happy to comply with reasonable authority and play by the rules. Funny that.

19 comments:

  1. And for all of that rigamorow, they get one half hour detention? Whereas the teacher and staff and resources have spent countless money and time. Ridiculous!!! The lack of respect starts early on in children. Firstly, they have no respect for their parents (sometimes rightly so) and that foreshadows a lack of respect for themselves. And, then it just becomes a snowball effect. My biggest complaint about classrooms here is that one is not allowed to touch a child. For fear of law suits and/or abuse charges. As a volunteer in classrooms for many years, from kindergarten through senior high school, I can say that I think a lot of children and young adults need more than anything......just a hug and a kind touch and a real connection with someone so that they know they are valued.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right about the touching Lady Thyme! This is a particular issue for male teachers. I learnt never to touch a child but it was hard if a kid was crying or simply because you liked them or appreciated what they had done and wanted to ruffle their hair or pat them on the back. What a mad world!

      Delete
  2. Certainly brings back memories, YP - and not in a good way! The inference from the recent Education in Yorkshire series was that there are senior staff who have their whole day taken up with dealing with unruly pupils. In primary school, as deputy head, I had to fit all that in to an almost full teaching week and I got to the stage when I would find myself wondering if it was worth putting a child through our particular system as I knew I would then have to deal with an irate parent who would not believe that his/her wonderful child could possibly do anything wrong. At that point, I decided it was time to call it a day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for stirring up those old memories Jenny. And those modern parents who immediately defend their children - seemingly unable to believe their kids could ever err from the path of righteousness! They need to be put on detention themselves!

      Delete
  3. You have given a very humorous account of something that I know well. I retired in 1997 when I still held the hammer. I could do detentions myself. Like you, I have reflected on many of the things that were done. I must say that many things were not for kids and caused more trouble.
    Your late story reminds me of Dan who deliberately came late and dutifully spent his detention time. He came late to avoid the bullies. After a while Dan just stayed in the VP's office ...no more detentions,

    ReplyDelete
  4. My own Bob spent an hour every afternoon for 6 months in the office after school because he refused to do homework (in 4th grade). The principal was going to force him to do it herself, she didn't believe I was mean enough, I guess. Bob loved being in the office, he got to hear all the gossip and see what was going on behind the scenes. He has always been helpful, sociable, and polite, and they enjoyed having him there. He did do his homework and every day the principal would walk him back to the classroom to make sure he turned it in (otherwise he'd toss it in the garbage). At the end of the semester, though, he still got an F on homework. The teacher had given the principal a list of what Bob needed to do. He ended up doing everything, but was always behind by 3 or 4 days because he started with a backload and was catching up. The teacher would not give him ANY credit for the homework because it was late. I told the principal, "You guys realize that you've shot yourself in the foot, right?"

    Soon after that we put the kid in a Waldorf school and never looked back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I trust that Bob learnt how to make a Waldorf salad. I believe it includes pieces of apple and walnut. As you have indicated before - formal schooling didn't always sit well with your Bob. It is good that he has turned out so well in adulthood.

      Delete
  5. Ah. Detentions. We had a maths teacher (who was also my Housemaster) who was a former tank commander from WW2 and was, unfortunately, no longer fit to teach. He would walk into his first classroom of the day on the night he was doing detention, announce that there were only a few people on detention that night and put the class on detention. He would repeat that until the detention room was so full there wasn't room for everyone. He said if he had to stay then everyone else would too. He did that for the entire time I was at the school and got away with it. I could go on.

    When used properly, though, the immediacy of a detention that night (and no way of telling your parents) was a pretty good punishment. Now, with no realistic sanctions, I sometimes wonder how any discipline is maintained at all. Perhaps there are many schools where it isn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also had a WWII teacher. He "taught" English but was quite useless. We called him Colonel. Most lessons were devoted to reading aloud from various texts. It wasn't really teaching at all. He was also very hard of hearing so when the whole class began humming he couldn't hear it until we increased the volume..."What's that? Who's doing that? Stop it! Stop it now!" and we'd carry on humming. Driving him to his wit's end....And I am sure you are right GB, there are schools where discipline is in very short supply.

      Delete
  6. This post makes me shudder with the memory of the battles I often had with PARENTS who would not believe that their little darlings would ever put a foot wrong. I retired when I began to feel that the battle was not worth the effort. That year in Thailand was a blessing for you as it has left you with your love of teaching in tact.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right Helen. You know I was quite reluctant to take up the job offer in Thailand but it ended up like a kind of joyful therapy. Healing much of the pain I'd felt and restoring my love of the processes of schooling young people.

      Delete
  7. Sounds like Helsie's experience was very similar to mine. Luckily, I too had a positive experience before retiring, at the small school that was due for closure. That place did a lot to restore my former enthusiasm for teaching.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nobody wants retirement to be tainted by bitter memories. It is good that you also got some healing therapy Jenny.

      Delete
  8. I'm not even going to mention detention...but I will wish you a belated Merry Christmas, Yorkie. I hope you're high, dry and safe where you are. And may 2014 treat you and yours kindly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's kind of you Lee. Yes - we have had no significant weather problems in Sheffield. The BBC likes to focus on the south east of England when it makes its national generalisations. All the best to you in 2014 when I hope you will fulfil one or two private dreams or goals.

      Delete
  9. Stupid and ridiculous and not effective at all! I know that the detention system my maths teacher had made up did not work in favour of me learning any valuable lessons from it, either, but it wasn't as kafkaesk as the one you describe.
    I wasn't good at maths, and at the age of about 11, I largely stopped trying because I couldn't understand what was going on anymore anyway. Therefore, I often did not do my homework. Every time a student showed up without homework, the maths teacher ticked your name in the class book. With three ticks to your name, you got a proper entry in the class book. With three entries (i. e. showing up 9 times without your homework) you received an hour of detention. One school year, I ended up with 10 hours of detention - meaning I had not done my maths homework 90 times.
    Detention meant I had to sit at the back of another class (not my own class) when my maths teacher was teaching afternoons. I did not learn anything from those extra lessons, since my teacher did not even speak to me, but taught his class as if I wasn't there. But I had to tell my mother that I had to go out again in the afternoon, and of course she wanted to know where I was going...
    Well, all that did nothing to improve my mastering of maths, it only served to make me even more wary of it all.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Arithmophobia (fear of maths) is a common condition in schools and one I suffered from myself - being of an artistic/creative/geographical bent. For me there was absolutely no thrill in Maths. I just didn't care if the answer I got was right or wrong because it didn't seem to matter. In quadratic equations that pesky "x" kept changing what it stood for and I was appalled by such inconstancy, such trickery. Maths rhymes with "laughs" but I never had any laughs in Maths lessons - just mental torture and boredom.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You'll like this story my friend, the local secondary school deputy head, told me recently ... kids often turn up late on a morning here and burst into class 10 minutes or half an hour after kick-off, disturbing everyone. The head and deputy decided enough was enough and that they'd make a policy of closing the school gates at starting time and as latecomers ring the bell to be let in, they'd be made to stay in an empty room till the next class changeover. Sounds good. But the teachers told the head where to stick his ideas - if the kids were going to be forced to be punctual, maybe they would be too! It turns out, to my amazement, that a sizeable proportion of the teachers also turn up 5 or 10 minutes late and don't see how this is a bad thing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The tardy teachers should be flogged! I shall whip the ladies and you can sort out the men! I think the initial idea was a good one. People wouldn't be allowed to burst into a theatrical performance. Being late for lessons is very disrespectful and anti-educational. And if you don't try to combat such a cancer, it will grow.

      Delete

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.