A letter which, had I the courage, could have been written during my first year of teaching. Events described below are real, though I’ve toned them down a little for fear of disbelief.
Dear Mrs Wardoc,
I just wanted to write to thank you for all your hard work with the two students who have been disrupting my lessons recently. Caitlyn and Jamal’s behaviour choices have, of late, been particularly poor and, as you know, their actions have severely disrupted the learning of others in the class, as well as their own. You were absolutely right to point out that the situations at home – at least for Caitlyn – are really to blame for recent behavioural outbursts and that, as a result, we mustn’t be too harsh on them. I was not aware that Jamal has a younger brother with ADHD: this must be awful for him. I suppose it begs the question as to whether Jamal also suffers from the disorder. It would certainly explain some of his actions, especially his blanket refusal to sit in the seating plan. You were, again, right to suggest that allowing him this small victory might temper some of this poorer behaviour – at least at the start of the lesson! Oh well. What are we to do, eh?
Since returning from their restorative justice sessions, in which they were able to explain their frustrations with my teaching, I have tried ever so hard to accommodate their learning styles into my planning. Inevitably this has led to more work for me, but being an NQT I guess this is what to expect (they told me this would be a hard year!) and if it allows Caitlyn and Jamal to focus for just a few minutes more then I suppose the extra effort is worth it.
As an aside, isn’t it funny that Siana and I – the two NQTs – have been roomed next to each other at the end of the school? We sometimes joke that it’s as if you’re all trying to ignore us!
I do have one question, however. Is the school certain that this approach, whereby I listen to poorly behaved children’s concerns in order to better teach them (and I assume these conversations are added to their IEPs?), the most effective? And is it fair? I only ask because my uncle – a teacher with many years in the profession – was quite scathing. He reckons that this is really just pandering to their poor behaviour and that it will only worsen their attitude towards authority in the long run. I’m not saying your standards are lower than his, but I do worry a little that we’re allowing poor behaviour to continue without any deference to authority figures. Like I said, I don’t think you’re wrong, but I just wonder why others might have different opinions.
Having said that, times change. My uncle retired recently and so I suppose he was stuck in his ways a little. Children these days are different, now that they have mobile ‘phones and tablets and access to the internet. I guess we have to accept that modern children will simply demand more respect given how connected they are with the world.
Whilst I’m writing this I need to make you aware that the incident with Chloe hasn’t yet been resolved, at least to my satisfaction. You remember I told you about how I caught her and some other Y9s smoking behind the bike sheds – so clichéd, I know! – and that, when I told her to stop she responded by telling me to “fucking jog on”? And you’ll recall, no doubt, the subsequent development? The one where she turned up with her “heavies”, as she put it – older students, I thought, because I didn’t recognise them and they weren’t in school uniform – to tell me that she wouldn’t be grassed on by a “newbie”? Well, rumour has it that these “heavies” were, in fact, local lads who’d walked into school. Their presence and use of language – industrial, is how I’d describe it! – really was quite frightening, especially for my Y7 tutor group who were helping to put up the new Behaviour4Learning display.
Now – again – I’m not saying your standards are lower than mine, but if I were I might suggest that reprimanding Chloe with an after school detention is not really enough. One might suggest – and I’m not, but one might – that this really doesn’t fix the problems, firstly of Chloe’s total defiance and subsequent threatening behaviour, and secondly of strangers walking on to the site.
Given that I was recently attacked as I, foolishly, stepped in to break up a fight between that Y10 boy and a local drug dealer who’d driven up to the Y7 exit, it does surprise me a little that this has been allowed to continue. As I said, I’m not for a moment suggesting that my standards are higher than the school’s, but if I were I’d probably point to this as a safeguarding issue, for both teachers and students. I’m sure the police – who I assume were called – had something to say about this, although the fact that the CCTV is still broken doesn’t help matters.
Anyway, whilst I really don’t want to impinge upon your busy day dealing with some of the terrible behaviour elsewhere in the school, I have been made aware by other union members that this could be a serious matter in the future. Not having a union representative in the school (and I do know why: the school might never open if the old guard had their way!) does mean that I feel a little vulnerable regarding my expectations of school protection from this kind of behaviour.
And finally, whilst I’m on the subject, I really do have to mention Dylan Dodson. For the second time this week Dylan pushed past me in the corridor as I tried to protect a Y8 girl from being hit by his flailing fists, and he did hit me – deliberately – twice in the chest. I completed a Behavioural Incident Form: Serious for this but was a little disappointed to have him arrive at my lesson the next day asking for work as he was internally excluded. Now, I’m not saying this was disrespectful towards me, or even thoughtless on your part, but if I were then I suppose I’d also enquire as to why he hasn’t yet been permanently excluded? After all, this is the second time he’s hit me this week, and I know that Tabatha, in science, was also pushed against the radiator. Again, though, he does have a tough home life and I suppose we have to expect this kind of behaviour. But, then again, if I was saying my standards were higher than the school’s then I’d point towards the argument that we’re the last bastions of civility in a town that’s lost its way; that by allowing this behaviour to continue we’re actually doing a disservice to both Dylan and our local community and that what we expect in this school becomes the future norm for people who tend to not move away as adults.
Again, though, I’m not making this argument. I’m not saying I have higher standards or anything like that, but it does sometimes help to write your ideas down. Do you find that? Every time I do I realise my mistakes, so I suppose this email has been really useful for me, even though it’s a long read for you!
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this. I really do admire the work you do, especially the way NQTs are left to “work out what works”, as you put it recently.