Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Kids Are Not Dumb - Not Even The Dumb Ones!

The role of Teaching Assistant affords a unique perspective on the classroom. Placed amongst the students, the TA is neither a teacher nor a pupil. Accordingly, they are treated as a hybrid of the two: an adult the kids can trust and conspire with, but also learn from and admire. It’s a wonderful  position to be in.

Although it’s usually advisable to shut them up before they divulge exactly which laws they broke or how much vodka they imbibed at the weekend, it can be wholly instructive to listen to the pupils talk about school life. The truth emerges about playground rumours, their perspective on classroom incidents vary wildly from the staffroom equivalents and their true feelings about the teaching staff are laid bare. After two years of being privy to such revelations, i realised that students are enormously perceptive and hugely demanding when it comes to their teachers. Here are the three keys things i learned:
  1. 1  If a teacher doesn’t turn up, they got no respect.
  2. 2  If a teacher doesn’t do what they say, they get no respect.
  3. 3. If a teacher doesn’t make a class work, they got no respect.
(for the uninitiated, respect is a huge fucking deal to teenage kids) 

Some of these ‘revelations’ might seem counter-intuitive or surprising. But they shouldn’t be. Kids are not dumb. None of them. Some might be less able than others, but every single one of them can see straight through a faker. They can spot a bullshitter. They know when you are ‘phoning it in’. They will hate you for it. And they’ll make you suffer for not doing your job properly.

1. There are a number of kids in schools who live unstable lives. It’s your job as a teacher to provide some measure of stability for them. This means being in their lesson EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you’re not there you are letting them down. You are failing them. You undermining your own teaching by suggesting that your subject is not important. You are implying that it’s okay for them to miss your lesson – after all, you do! Worst of all, you are leaving them with a substitute teacher and a shitty pile of pointless timewasting tasks which will never get marked: cover lessons are not taken seriously by anyone. Kids hate teachers who miss lessons and have absolutely no respect for them: do not be ill and do not put yourself forward for every school trip available: DO NOT ABSENT YOURSELF FROM YOUR OWN LESSONS.

2, If you show weakness and inconsistency, kids will eat you alive. If you fail to keep your promises or follow through on your threats, they will seek to take advantage at every available opportunity. They will quickly ascertain how to appeal to your better nature, worm their way into your affections and talk you out of your sanctions. Set out your standards for behaviour and then adhere to them ruthlessly. Contrary to what you might think, they will respect you for this - because they will always know where they stand with you. They will know your threats are never empty. They will not be able to complain that others are treated differently or that they are being victimised. 

3. Once you have managed to drag yourself into school and instilled some discipline in your class, don’t forget to make them do some work. Proper work. Set objectives and teach to them. Make them think for themselves. Communicate clearly and enable discussion, groupwork and peer-to-peer learning. Make them write things down. Ensure they can recognise their own progress. And then mark their books, grade their oral work and praise them to the heavens. Kids like doing work. But they don’t like boring work. They like fun tasks, variety and thinking for themselves. They like clarity in their teaching and they like the work they produce to be appreciated and graded so they know how to make improve the next time. You would not believe the number of times i’ve heard kids moan about teachers who “never make us do any writing” or who refuse to work because “it won’t get marked anyway”.

Isolated from the reality of the classroom, cocooned in their bubbles at the front of the room, too many teachers are blissfully/painfully unaware of the demands their students have of them. I’ve sat through too many shitty lessons with ill-prepared teachers to ever make those mistakes myself: if i want my kids to respect me, i have to treat them with respect too.

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