I was going to end the academic year here, but have decided instead to finish with this post given a few discussions on social media over the last couple of days.
I very much welcome the Developing behaviour management content for initial teacher training (ITT) report from Tom Bennett. As much as I share some of the reservations put forward by Alex Ford, it’s high-time that teacher training gave more than a passing glance at the great big elephant throwing gum around the room. I recall a fellow trainee asking, “Yeah, but what if they still won’t be quiet? What then?”, and receiving the most unsatisfactory response of “They’ll eventually listen.”
I wonder, though, if there’s a bigger problem here, a larger, more daunting elephant, squatting nonchalantly over the entirety of education, waving its trunk in ever more aggressive swings, only to be further ignored by the majority of people in education: have we come to expect poor behaviour?
I mean, has poor behaviour become that normalised? Because, frankly, it has for me. I’ve become so used to being told to fuck off over the years that I have no eyelids left to bat. I, and we, just expect it. And that is a massive problem, isn’t it? That we know that from certain classes and from certain children we will face verbal abuse and have any chances of learning totally ruined by the same few every week. And I get that this isn’t a new thing, but a history of poor behaviour does not make continuing poor behaviour okay. My issue is not that it happens (well, it is, but that’s not what I’m arguing here) but that poor behaviour is so commonplace that we think nothing of it, or at least aren’t completely taken aback when Carly Carrot refuses to sit in her seat because of x, y and z.
When we come to expect poor behaviour from certain children we totally and absolutely let those children down. When we’re happy that Yazmyn is quiet for once, even though her head is on the table, and even if she refuses to answer the exam question, then we’ve failed her. It’s no good to say, “Well, that’s great for her – she normally loudly accuses Keisha of being a slut, so I won’t write her up today.” This relativistic behaviour management approach is totally at odds with any amount of every child mattering: it’s a piecemeal, scorched-earth appeasement that helps no-one.
It’s no coincidence that successful schools have great behaviour. My current school has turned around hugely since a new head teacher refused to accept poor behaviour. So when we blame something elsewhere for poor behaviour then yeah, okay, that might be the cause, but that does not have to be our, and their, lot. What we do in schools can have a lasting effect if our attitude is firm and steadfast. Yes, some of us in certain areas perhaps have it harder, but that does not for one moment mean that we should accept less than the best. Because anything else, any concession to defeat or expectation of poor behaviour is unfair, cynical and elitist.