Why does there seem to be so many teachers who feel that a child’s behaviour should not be (or they wish was not) their responsibility?

Just asking this question makes me think I’ll be hauled out and dragged through the twitter court and labelled as someone who just does not care about teachers or children, an outcast of the profession; L’etranger, an empty nonbeliever, whose heresy needs to be hunted down and wiped clean from the archives of time. This proves that I don’t care about teachers, that I probably run some sort of draconian workhouse where Lord of the Flies is fact rather than fiction.

The definition of a teacher is: a person who teaches or instructs.

This seems simple enough. I tell you this and you do that. In 21 years in the profession it has never been this simple though. I have never stood at the front, delivered my lesson plan and walked away knowing that the mission had been accomplished, that all 30 individuals had experienced a body of learning devoid of any emotional white noise. That I had somehow inserted a disk of knowledge into their hard drives and they could now cognate this new learning and perform tasks with it that they could not previously. I had great days; days where the buzz of learning was heavy; where excitement and discovery danced flamenco beats across my classroom. Even on those days behaviours triggered by emotions still ruled over the cold functional outcomes. These were mainly positive emotions and they left me energised and believing I was a great teacher. They embellished the outcomes I could see. Little Joe could now (as in ‘at that moment’) remember that 8X8 is 64 – and he feels like he is the king of the world.

There is nothing in the definition of teacher to indicate I need to care, or take any responsibility, for a child’s behaviour. In 21 years of teaching I have never been in a school where behaviour was not one of the prime factors in the classroom though. I like polite things, please and thank you. Others may have a different attitude towards this. They may like freedom of expression. When behaviour strays in to the dislike arena I am more inclined to express my attitude about this. I don’t care how they feel but I know how it makes me feel. This is key to why some teachers feel isolated when faced with challenging behaviour in class. Attitudes are key to our personalities and therefore our stance on behaviour. If those around us do not support our attitude then we are more likely to feel unhappy, angry or helpless, even when help is available. “I did not sign up for this!”

It would seem that in the title ‘teacher’ there is a gap between the expectation and the reality of behaviour and its impact upon learning.

In my experience (through visiting, teaching in and supporting many schools) the vast majority of children make the behaviour part of the role of the teacher pretty easy. My last two schools (as a head teacher) have Ofsted outstanding judgements for behaviour, though both had great challenges. I know a lot about behaviour and have pretty much seen it all, from gang fights (in primary) to a whole class riot. I feel that I have never shirked the challenge and I have always believed they were part of my responsibility as a teacher (class or head). The successes of these schools must be examples that unconditional acceptance of children is not a recipe for unsuccessful schools. Unconditional acceptance must not be confused with unclear boundaries and unsupportive leadership though. I believe that through a collective responsibility in schools behaviour can be tackled effectively but I know it is not easy. This is not about keeping disruptive or angry children in class. This is about a ‘whole school/ whole community’ approach to challenging behaviour. I feel that the teacher is a vital link to getting this right.

Why is this so different from others perspectives? Am I some progressive freak? Am I delusional?

The Teacher Standards state that:

  • Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach…

I would say that my attitude to behaviour is vital. As the head teacher I am a key daily influence on the expectation. If I shout, then everyone should be allowed to shout. If I say we have unconditional regard for ALL children, then this is the school you are now part of. That’s tough when a new head comes in and the rules change.

I truly believe that no one goes in to teaching because they hate children. Only the most twisted and disturbed would do this. Therefore, I hear those voices who tell me I have got it wrong. I hear them even when I hear myself saying, “What kind of society would we be if teachers are not the ambassadors for ALL children? What school ethos that promotes ‘good behaviours’ washes it hands of unacceptable behaviours? What school could have a system where all deviants of the behaviour rules are struck off?

If it is not us then who should it be?

Parents?

Social Workers?

Government?

How about – all of us? I know I have changed no one’s minds on this but I struggle with the concept of a teacher who has no responsibility for behaviour.

“That is because you don’t have to teach them every day.”

Any head teacher out there who does not lose sleep over behaviour is either lucky or delusional. Most of us live or die on our schools successes- our teacher’s successes. Nothing upsets the balance more than a school that loses sight of its behaviour. Seeing teachers struggle is really hard. It is the constant inner battle I have of what more can I do to make this work? Harder still is when you make that call that says we no longer have the capacity (will or ability) to support a child. I know because I have done that. I have said, “We have failed you.”

“Why have WE failed? I signed up to be a teacher… not a social worker, not an educational psychologist. I signed up to impart knowledge. Why can you not see that?”

OK, I am now having a conversation with some sort of imaginary voice… this is probably not a good thing.

We have failed because we are on the front line.

If not us… then who?

By failed I do not mean we are the cause of the issues. We are not, that is far more complex. We are in a privileged position to help solve it though. It is only through caring for everyone we can do this. There are very few second chances for many of our youngest and most vulnerable children.

Start caring by thinking about the other 29… think about the teacher!

This is always the killer blow in the ‘for and against’ argument because it carries an element of truth. Caring may be about cutting off all the schools ties and chances for one vulnerable, desperate and very unhappy child to care for the majority. I agree that there are times when this is the only option we can see. My issue is, if we do not try the mainstream option believing it MUST work or if we know that the problem can go away as soon as it irks us, then many of us will just give up on children. I find this one of the big moral dilemmas within our profession. Higher and higher standards of academic brilliance and expanding test scores are nothing if society is divided and sees unacceptable behaviour as a ticket out of formal education at the first or second stop.

How many writers, thinkers, artists, politicians, humanitarians, scientists or mathematicians found a teacher who believed in them? How many turned to this belief during their hardest times and had it carry them through?

What if that disruptive child is carried through by a teacher that believes in them as well? What if we harden our thresholds and those chances disappear altogether?

I know that I will continue to champion all children. It is not the easiest thing to do. In fact it is becoming clear it is not the easiest thing to say anymore. I will do it because I am a teacher. I will do it even though many would say it is not my responsibility to do it. I will do it because I care even when I only need to teach and instruct. I will do it because as soon as I believe I cannot or I should not then I am creating limitations on my capacity to make a difference. I will do it because it has been done and I have done it – so why stop? I will do it because if we don’t then who does?

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