I like rules. Everybody needs rules. Society exists because of rules. Rules, in and of themselves, aren’t good or bad of course. But without the right rules, carefully chosen rules, there’s chaos. Surely? Without rules every day would just be another round of pushing boundaries, seeing how far our selfishness will take us. Wouldn’t It?
I think teachers need to identify their personal “vision”. I think teachers need to have a very clear concept of what their ideal classroom would look like. How would relationships work? How would kids come in and sit down? How would kids react as the teacher talks? How would kids get the teacher’s attention? How would kids let the teacher know if they need help? Your basics – I think teachers need to know what they want and then work towards that.
I don’t think teachers should be frightened of kids, or be verbally abused on a daily basis, or be ignored, or be treated dismissively by kids.
Some kids, depending upon the culture of the school, think that teachers, just by virtue of their job title, are there to be abused. Some of these same kids throw stones at policemen and firemen and ambulance men. These kids have learnt to be anti-authority and they’ve learnt not to fear consequences. Do I want kids living in fear? Well, a bit, yeah.
Are you frightened of the consequences if you don’t attend regularly, if you don’t mark books, if you don’t turn up on time, if you don’t mark in green pen or show evidence of differentiation? I suspect, like many teachers, you spend much of your time frightened that somebody is going to come along and tell you that you are not following the rules.
So, I’m going to say, rules are a part of living in society, sharing the planet with other people. I’m also going to say that life is made up of hierarchies. That’s not to say those in power are always the best, but, for a whole host of reasons, we live in hierarchies.
The classroom is a hierarchy. The boss? It has to be the adult. That makes him responsible for outcomes to a very large extent. To a very large extent? Yes, because kids have to meet us part way. Some of them won’t want to, and, as teachers, it’s our role to coerce and force kids to comply if necessary. Coercion! Force! The man’s a monster! No, not really, a benevolent dictator perhaps.
There’s no dichotomy for me in the adult leading the class, presenting ready made highly effective routines that will be applied with precision and persistency, and the kids getting the best possible deal.
You can tell kids what to do and smile at the same time. You can tell kids what to do and explain your rationale, “People, dead simple rule, if you’ve got a question put your hand up and wait for me to cue you in. There are 25 of you and 1 of me. It’s only fair. And if you let me finish my sentence, usually it becomes pretty clear what I want. Cheers”
Explaining your rules isn’t apologising or compromising or negotiating. Not in my book.
I say, let’s have lots of rules. Let’s write them up. Let’s do a great big A1 poster with each rule numbered. The rules are an outline of the teacher’s vision. The rules are there to make things smooth. The rules are there to ensure that more time is spent on learning and less on work avoidance. The rules are an opportunity to highlight the behaviours you want.
Will kids read the rules poster? Doubt it. But it’s there every day to keep the teacher on track. It’s there to remind the teacher, “Listen, you thought about this when nobody was trying to side track you. This is your vision. This is what you want. It’s your route map. Keep going. Personal consistency is your greatest asset.”
Most schools have rule posters, they’re generic, sometimes they’re pretty rubbish these rules. Invariably the posters are ignored by teachers and the rules themselves applied in a very haphazard manner.
What if you create your own poster, not contradicting the school rules, but filling in the gaps? That way you’re on firmer ground, I’d say. The music teacher needs his subject specific rules, the PE teacher his, and so on. The generic school rules poster can only, at best be an outline.
But it’s not the act of designing a pretty poster, changing fonts and adding clipart that makes a difference. I’d say your rules could be scribbled on a sheet of paper and stuck in your planner where the kids don’t even see them.
It’s the act of reflection. It’s pinpointing, “What do I really believe in? How do I want them to collect equipment? Put it away? How do I want the first ten minutes to look? Q&A sessions? Reading and writing tasks? The last ten minutes? What’s my vision? What are the steps I need to take every day to make that vision a reality?” Is any of this child cruelty? I think not.
Here’s an idea, what if we thought less about placating the mouthy rude kids who come to school determined to disrupt and, instead, we thought more about the willing kids, the kids that would like to learn, free from interruptions and bullying, the kids who would like to join in and feel accomplished but who are frightened of being singled out as swots, freaks, geeks, nerds and gays?
Just a thought!