Little_Mavis' rants and musings

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My excuses

I’ve been musing (nothing new there) about why I find the “no excuses” approach in schools so … unpleasant.

If you follow me on Twitter (@little_mavis) you will see that my bio says “Passionate about fairness” and I am. I like everyone to be treated fairly and I will even sometimes, speak up on behalf of people I do not agree with if I think they are being unfairly castigated. (Though having said that I think some people are so far beyond the pale that I cannot bring myself to say anything in support)

I think I may have found a logical and practical reason for my not being happy with overly strict ways of dealing with school children.

For now I am leaving aside the moral consideration of whether it is right to ignore personal circumstances or special needs when imposing and judging misbehaviour or that of the fairness/morality/effectiveness of the form that the punishment seems to take. I’m just going to make a point on the practical consequences on ordinary, average, non-troubled/troublesome kids.

You see, many of us think our kids behave & it’s others who cause all the problems. But, even with uniform lists & sets of rules, you can’t always be certain you won’t fall foul of uniform requirements you interpreted in a different way, or another child maliciously blaming yours for something they didn’t do, or of a teacher having an off day. These excessively strict systems are not renowned for giving the benefit of the doubt. And if there is anything which will make a well behaved child lose confidence in the system, it’s being punished for something when they didn’t do anything wrong.

I was punished in infant school for something I didn’t do. I still resent that now. Remember that Twitter meme where it asked for your longest standing grudge? That’s mine. The girl who lied about me to a teacher more than 50 years ago.

I get that life isn’t fair. I’ve told my own children and students that. But the whole point of the “no excuses” system is meant to be to teach children that good behaviour is right/desirable/rewarded, and I’m not convinced it will do that.

I am by nature a rule follower. I suspect that’s why I rail so much against rules that I see as unreasonable or unfair. And I’m just not convinced that the supposed beneficiaries of the “no excuses” culture, those quiet, well-behaved children that we are trying to protect from hooligans and malicious troublemakers, will be as well served as we imagine. (As an aside, I’m not as convinced as some that there really is an army of malicious troublemakers as some but that’s another discussion)

Maybe it’s not the “bad” who will learn new ways.



Is Patriarchy throwing a final tantrum?

There is a general adage in childcare manuals (see pg 12 here pdf) that if you take steps to correct bad behaviour, things will get worse before they get better. This seems especially noticeable if it is a behaviour they have been previously getting away with. You can imagine the mental workings on this.

“But they let me do this yesterday, why won’t they let me do it today?”

“That’s not fair. I like doing it.”

“They don’t mean it do they? They love me. Why won’t they let me do what I want?”

So. They repeat the behaviour. And you carry on with whatever form of discipline you’ve chosen. If the behaviour persists, you may step up your discipline a notch. You may move from 5 minutes time out to sending to their room. (Not my approach but a popular one)

Sometimes this appears to work. Behaviour settles, you relax on the discipline and things seem to be progressing just fine.

Then They go to school, or make a new friend and they discover that their friend appears to be allowed to do the thing you have successfully stopped them from doing. So they begin a campaign to return to their previous, preferred state where they could demand toys or hit their little sister, or whatever. And you repeat your original reaction, But now, they’re older, and bigger and they have their new friend egging them on. It’s harder this time round, and it isn’t helped by their friend’s parent telling you that this behaviour doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s just fine, children need to stand up for themselves in this hurly-burly world.

Ultimately, if you believe in a world where children (not all children) do not go around taking anything they want and hitting other children they do not like, you need to persist. Sometimes in the face of criticism from other parents.

So. Where am I going with this?

Just now, women seem to be fighting many of the battles that I thought we had won ages ago and part of me wonders if it is just that men (not all men), or patriarchy throwing their renewed tantrums to try to regain what they believe they have lost. They have been forced to accept equality in so many ways but they are still fighting back in a different way. For women to be equal we must become like them, because that is how you become successful. I honestly thought we had gone through all of this, as I said, years ago. I remember discussions and articles about how having women in business and in charge would change the narrative. I thought it was happening but somehow we are being dragged back to this.

Yes, women can be tough. But we shouldn’t need to be tough in the way that has been defined in the past by men. I’m not an expert on feminism or history but I want to be allowed to be who I want to be. And I want men to have that option too.

I don’t want to see life solely as a competition and like it or not, for historical reasons we do see competition as masculine and cooperation as feminine. And even if you reject those labels, in an evolutionary sense, it makes sense. We need to embrace both aspects to be successful as a human community.

This blog was prompted by Twitter discussions and by this blog and its follow-up from @sue_cowley

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The kids know!

I got into a conversation one morning at the end of last week about dealing with stroppy year 6s.  Ultimately, I suspect, my main problem with them the previous day was that I was tired and a bit irritable so that fairly minor poor behaviour was irritating me more than usual. The main point still stands though. Currently Year 6 children are attempting to throw their weight around. SATs are done. They haven’t yet had results and many of them believe that there is no point in any of their work they are doing now, however interesting or ultimately useful it may be.

Some children, maybe most, will still want to learn, simply because they always do, some are naturally co-operative and obedient but there are always those few who just keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour.

In general, I like to look for the cause of poor behaviour and tackle that. I reason rather that threaten or punish but some children seriously test my resolve. The ones I find most difficult are the arrogant ones who seem to genuinely believe they deserve special treatment, that the rules don’t apply to them. They are the child equivalent of adult drivers who park in disabled spaces or double yellow lines because they are “just popping in”. You have all met them. They perfect the art of sighing and eye rolling well before the rest of the kids and always have a (totally ridiculous) excuse.

These are also the ones who are most acutely aware of the hierarchy that exists in schools. They will modify their behaviour for the head and somewhat grudgingly for the deputy or senior staff but not so much for newer, less experienced teachers and if, like me, you are support staff, they regard you as irrelevant and unimportant.

I used to be a teacher in sixth form. I have taught all kinds of students from level 1 to A level, and, although classroom management wasn’t in all honesty, my strong point, I wasn’t routinely ignored when I issued instructions. Even there the hierarchy was evident. The most graphic illustration of this was in one of our very rare assemblies. A student was talking as the Principal was about to speak and did not stop quickly enough. The Principal asked her to leave.  In typical student fashion she argued and insisted she would be quiet now, he was having none of it “You either leave this hall, or you leave the college. Your choice.” No-one else could have said that! In turn Department Heads or Programme Managers were known to possess more power than classroom teachers. The students know this! They will adapt their behaviour accordingly. If students play up a teacher but behave for someone more senior it may not be that the senior teacher is that much better at behaviour management  (It may be of course but that’s a different issue).

But, back to support staff. As a TA working with the top group on their weekly mental maths I had a pupil argue with me about the the answer to a question on percentages. They firmly believed they were right and I was wrong (I wasn’t), but it was indicative of the general regard in which we are held. I also work, as many TAs do, as a Lunchtime Supervisor. These are the members of the school staff who are apparently the lowest of the low. We are routinely ignored when implementing the (minimal) rules that are in effect at lunchtime. Our initial sanction is to put miscreants “on the wall” for a limited period. (Is this universal by the way? – Standing students next to the person by the entrance to the school). If this is not effective the next step is to send them to stand in the dinner hall or to the Deputy Head which is really simply relying on a higher authority who may not always be available and, in all honesty doesn’t seem to have any real long-term effect. It can make for a very fraught hour some days.

I suppose, ultimately, this post is simply asking you (especially senior staff) to note that if you believe you have behaviour in your school sorted, check with your support staff to see if they are still having issues, make sure you have systems in place for them to use and make sure you back them up in practice.

In some ways it can be tough down at the bottom of the school hierarchy.


Oh. And if you do have advice for dealing with especially arrogant children I’d be delighted to hear it.