I notice that the TV program we knew as Educating Essex is going to run from September as Educating Yorkshire, and it made me wonder whether Educating Greater Manchester could be next. After all, even though it said in the article that I read that the kids “in Yorkshire” can be very direct and blunt towards their teachers, kids behave quite differently or very similarly in my opinion whichever part of the country you observe. Take my friend Chris and his class of fifteen year-olds when they were to be observed by an OFSTED inspector a few years ago.
The lesson was about paying for electricity and around the room various electrical items had been placed, with a card showing details of its power in watts. The items included things like an electric drill, a hair dryer, a table lamp and so on. They had the formula for working out the total Units of electricity in their books from a previous lesson, as well as the cost of a Unit and were told the item had been used for two hours. Each item was plugged in so that they could entertain themselves by switching it on for a few seconds, before writing down its details and moving on to the next object.
This was a lower ability group whose behaviour could be unpredictable sometimes and it included a lanky lad, named James, who Chris had known since the boy was eleven. James was a good example of a pupil with challenging behaviour because, while he could be perfectly affable with a teacher one minute, he would turn very nasty and rude towards his support teacher in the next minute. Most of this aggression stemmed from the fact that James, like so many lower ability children, was very aware of his intellectual limitations. They often seem to rub along well with the adult sat with them, usually a mum herself who is not qualified as a teacher, but who understands and has been trained to assist the child with their reading, writing and mathematical skills in classes. The child can become frustrated with their own lack of progress compared to their peers and at the same time resent the adult sat with them whose job it is to help them. Most of the time the frustration and anger is not evident but when it boils over the support assistant is often the person best placed to calm the child down, having developed quite a close relationship with them. Usually a few kind and calming words in the corridor are enough to do the trick and I have lost count, over the years, of the number of times a child has returned to the classroom, apologised for their outburst, and tried again to complete the task.
Of course managing such behaviour is not easy and requires skill and patience on the part of teachers and support assistants alike. It is often easier when the child is younger and before adolescence kicks in. James was one of the boys who grew to resent his “helper” to such an extent that he rejected their presence in his classrooms, and when he became big enough to possibly present a physical threat to them the support was taken away. After all it was very difficult to employ enough adults in the school in that educational support role in any case, so his support went to help another child in the school.
Chris had learned early in his teaching career that many of his lower ability students preferred lots of practical tasks with a minimum of written work, and the lesson observed by the inspector was going quite well because that is what he’d planned. Switch something electrical on, let it do its thing, switch it off, fill in a few details about it in the blanks left on the worksheet then move on to the next item. Apart from the odd low grumble emanating from the youths’ recently broken voices, Chris was not aware of any problems with the practical work. After that he led them by the nose through the calculations of the cost on the whiteboard, which they dutifully copied down into their books. A few brief words from the inspector to Chris and he left the
room. Phew! thought Chris, That went better than expected. And then it happened:
No sooner had the classroom door clicked to, behind the inspector, than James and Nathan launched themselves at each other! Fists were flying, expletives were flung back and forth, and other students backed away from the furious pair of lanky lads. Chris was stunned and motionless for a few seconds and then did exactly what all teachers are advised not to do. He raced across the room to force himself in between the two fighters, pushing them apart with a hand on each chest.
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing!’ Chris yelled. ‘Pack it in now, or I’ll send for the Head!’
Thankfully they did stop hitting out at each other, physically, but the insults continued. ‘He f…ing started it!’ claimed Nathan. ‘You f…ing kicked off first!’ yelled James. ‘Calm down the pair of you,’ said Chris. ‘What on earth was that about?’
But James was not listening. He was still furious and made another attempt to lunge at Nathan. Chris grabbed him by his upper arms and pushed him back towards the rear wall of the classroom. ‘Stop now, James! Calm down! Or else!’
James looked down at his teacher as his red mist cleared and said, ‘He’s always kicking off! What you gonna do anyway?’ Chris let go of him and said, ‘I don’t even know what that means – kicked off – and you know what I can do.’ He turned to face Nathan. ‘Both of you could be sent home for this!’
‘Oh they’re always kicking off with each other,’ said Michelle, the only girl in this group. ‘Right, well I’m not really interested in the whys and wherefores of it,’ said Chris. ‘I’m just glad you didn’t kick off in front of that OFSTED inspector. At least you waited until he’d left the room.’
‘You were great, sir,’ said Michelle. ‘Stepping in to stop ‘em like that. Most teachers wouldn’t dare.’ Yeah! said an anonymous voice and the rest of the class began clapping and shouting: Well done, sir! James and Nathan were now smiling sheepishly at Chris, but not quite daring to applaud him.
Chris took back the initiative and put up his hand to stop the racket. He could see the lab technicians staring curiously through the glass door panel. ‘If you two shake hands and sit down for me then I won’t take this any further... Thank heavens
you didn’t fight with him in the room,’ Chris said, shaking his head.
‘We wouldn’t have done that to ya, sir. Would we, Naith?’ said James.
‘No, sir, course not,’ agreed Nathan.
‘We wouldna wanted you ter get the sack!’