Friday, April 21, 2006


School behaviour at 'crisis point'

Teaching isn't easy I see disruptive behaviour in Irish secondary schools is at crisis point according to the Union of Secondary Students.

President Nick Trigoub-Rotnem said:

"We feel that the situation in school behaviour is at crisis point, but it can’t just be resolved by expelling students, by separating them from the student body as a whole.

"Some classrooms are run 30 students per teacher. In that situation, the teacher can’t hold authority in the classroom. This is not the teacher’s fault and for the most part you can’t just blame the students.

"We just don’t have enough teachers in school."

The Union also conducted a survey of discipline in schools among 500 of the union’s young members, many of whom wanted more say on education policies:

"The survey showed students were interested in the running of their own schools," said Mr Trigoub-Rotnem.

"They feel left out in the discipline procedures, that they should have a say in it, and if they did, they would have more respect for rules, and behaviour would be better in schools.

"They felt students should speak with the board of governors, teachers and parents on school discipline decisions."

The newly-elected president also criticised plans by the Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin not to downsize class numbers but to instead plough funds into other areas of education:

"It is quite embarrassing that only €2m has been spent on implementing discipline in underachieving schools. That’s nowhere near enough. They have money, I don’t know why they are not spending it."

I would agree with President Trigoub-Rotnem that there are too many students in classes and that more money should be spent on discipline, but I don't agree that bad behaviour in schools is down to students feeling "left out" in discipline procedures nor do I agree that greater input from them would see an upturn in respect for teachers.

I went to a very tough school in Dublin's Northside and I have seen great teachers, many of whom were gents, reduced to near breaking point dealing with students who behaved like absolute animals. I was not a bad kid myself, mostly I just kept my head down (sometimes literally) when school was going on. I remember one time when a Science teacher of mine was pelted with coins whenever she turned her back to the classroom and another time when a substitute French teacher of mine was reduced to tears when one guy threw something at her eye. There were other far worse incidents that I'll choose not to disclose!

You're not going to put a stop to moronic behaviour like that by sitting these idiots down and trying to give them an input into discipline procedures.

While I was not a bad kid myself, being a part of a classroom where people acted like maniacs, I learned to observe what teachers were accepted by the class and what teachers were not. I could tell within the first 15 seconds of seeing a teacher if he/she was going to gain the respect of the class. The ones who walked in with a scowl on the face and who acted like they had a rod stuck up their arse were the ones who were destined for many battles. The ones who walked in with a quiet determination and a respectful attitude had a good, but by no means certain, chance of connecting with the class. As for the ones who were quite timid, they were sadly eaten alive!

I remember many great teachers of mine who were very learned, whose only flaw was that they were quite timid, who had to deal with truly vile abuse. Seeing as I was fairly quiet myself in my school days, I was put off teaching due to these experiences. I have the utmost respect for those who choose to take up the field though because it's not an easy job by any means.

I would agree too with President Trigoub-Rotnem that reducing class size is necessary. Not only for discipline but because I feel you can learn a lot more in classes of less than 15 than you can in classes of 25 to 30.

I would also suggest an extra emphasis on improving the people skills of trainee teachers. If you don't have the respect of the class from day one then it's very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get it at some point down the line. Confidence and self-belief is of paramount importance in order to be a successful teacher.

I think Karl Menninger summed it up better than anyone:

"What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches."


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