Bad behaviour forces teachers out of the classroom and lets students down
By Mike Stuchbery
One of the first things I noticed in my first few weeks of teaching in England, was how many of my colleagues seemed to be on the brink of tears in the staffroom. Nary a break or lunchtime went by without someone being consoled, or talked down from walking out. There was an awful lot of staring into my coffee, slightly perturbed at what was going on across the table.
I didn't understand at first, but I would.
Over the course of the next two years, I was slowly worn down, my love for teaching slowly ebbing away after ten years in the classroom.
I won't deny that part of the trouble was workload - I was spending more work hours out of the classroom than in it. However, most of what was driving me out of the job was the toll that disruptive student behaviour was having on me.
I am an experienced teacher with a good handle on behaviour management.
I had worked in what was considered to be ' rough' schools in Australia
- the kind where gang fights broke out on the playing fields. I had experienced and dealt with bad behaviour before.
Nothing, however, could prepare me for what is accepted in many English classrooms.
Never had I had to chase students down corridors after they decided to walk out of class, nor did I have to physically protect school equipment from being damaged, kicked in or burned with cigarette lighters. More than once I managed to cop a fist meant for someone else when breaking up a fight. I was called foul names on a daily basis.
What shocked me most was the defiance - a deep, burning contempt for authority. Students could act out and kick off, with the most that could happen being their (very) temporary removal from the classroom. This, in effect, meant that nothing could deter them from disrupting the learning of others. Oh, how they persisted in disruption!
Dealing with defiance and interruption on a daily basis can have a very real physical effect on you. Sleep is impacted. You begin to wake up with your stomach a tight knot of anxiety. You get the shakes as adrenalin fires constantly. Your voice becomes hoarse and croaky. By the start of 2016, I was a physical wreck and it showed in my teaching - I was uninspired, playing it safe, merely concentrating on getting through the day.
When I approached my management with the impact of what what happening, the onus was always thrown back onto me to fix the situation. I was given behaviour management guidelines that, while well-meaning, meant that persistent offenders were able to game the system and run rings around teachers. My colleagues provided what assistance they could, but it was obvious that they were fighting their own, losing, battles. Help from SLT was sporadic at best.
I eventually quit teaching, after the physical toll on me became too much. This in itself would be saddening, but I am constantly made aware of colleagues who continue to leave the profession. They too, have had their health seriously affected.
This drain of teachers is only increasing and it should be worrying to all of us.
Put simply, kids won't get the teachers they deserve in this country, not until our full attention is focused on raising behaviour standards.
Creating quiet, focused learning environments will not only lead to better teaching by teachers already in the profession, but should result in encouraging graduates into the profession.
Just think, if we can nail behaviour in schools, eliminating disruption, the next generation of teachers will be able to impart their knowledge and love for their subject in ways we haven't begun to think about.
The journey towards a school system in which good student behaviour is the norm won't be an easy one. It will mean fierce debate, hard decisions, convincing teachers and parents to sign on. It will mean a very different approach in everything that teachers do. Some will be resistant to change. They will have to be convinced.
I decided to write for the Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign as I believe that their approach to educational reform is the one most likely to achieve a better education for all young people. Central to their policy platform is raising standards of behaviour, using the freedom and flexibility that academies and free schools provide.
If you can identify with any of the experiences that I have written about, or feel similarly, I urge you to get involved with the PTE campaign and add your voice. Hopefully, combined, we will be able to have a real say in how we create classrooms across the country where kids can do what they came to do - learn.
Mike Stuchbery is an educator, writer and heritage engagement specialist who lives in Luton. He has extensive classroom experience in Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. He tweets at @MrMStuchbery.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PTE or its employees.