Today I observed another teacher lead a lesson. Miss Lucas comes every week with a group because her school feels that some of the students need extra support, and she asked if she could lead the classes for a few weeks. She was pretty capable, considering she only started her career four months ago. Knowing what I know it looked like she had spent maybe half an hour preparing for an hour long session. There were photocopies and she had carefully thought through the learning objectives and how to achieve them.
I stood at the back most of the time, although chipped in occasionally to help the 15 and 16 year old students, who are but 3 months away from their final assessments.
Here's the thing. One of the sections of the session was a group discussion. The teacher led a brainstorming of ideas, prompting the students to come up with suggestions, review their knowledge and fill in the gaps. She had them come out to the front and write their ideas on the screen.
In the group there are some capable and affable teenagers. They can be lively and sometimes distracted, but are generally enthusiastic and fun. Last week I took them for an hour and for some reason they were in a bad mood. Most of the time everyone worked quite hard, although there was an air of sullenness about them. One of the students, Ricky, for no discernible reason, began an argument with me and then, despite my best efforts, escalated it to a point where he could threaten me, hurl some obscene abuse and then storm out. Apparently people in authority at his school had spoken to Ricky. He was under threat of being disbarred from attending our centre.
During this question and answer session, which lasted 20 or so minutes, I decided to focus on Ricky's demeanour. I stood at the back and counted the number of times he interrupted his hard-working, intelligent, professional teacher. Some of his interruptions were simply designed to make him centre of attention. He shouted out supposedly humourous comments, began distracting side-conversations with other students around him. When he had a real, appropriate answer, he didn't wait until he was called upon but simply shouted it out. When Miss L tried to get him to hold back, he ignored her directions and requests and simply repeated what he was saying louder and louder until he was satisfied everyone had taken notice of him. Ricky totally dominated the whole session. He shouted down other students and, when, once, he was given the light pen to write on the screen, refused to give it back.
In total he interrupted the teacher 91 times in 20 minutes. More disturbingly, many of his interjections were designed to simply undermine her authority. At one point she asked him to be quiet, which he was, but as soon as she began speaking he shouted over the top of her. She stopped, he apologised. She then spoke again only for him to shout over her first word. He told her how to conduct the session, he tried to influence the topic and one or two of his 'funny' comments were even offensive to his classmates. The teacher had a untucked blouse. Because she was working so hard the bottom button became undone. She flashed a tiny bit of abdomen for a moment. Ricky pointed at her and accused her of flashing him. "I can see your c*nt!" he shouted.
At the end of the session she spoke to me. The school's solution to Ricky is to move him from class to class. He is on track to achieve the golden C grades in several subjects and she had been told that there was no way the school was going to get rid of him. She had inherited him from her own boss. After all, Ricky was leaving in a few months. She also mentioned that his parents were difficult. They are fairly affluent and well-educated compared to most other parents of students in this inner-city school, and convinced that their son is a child-genius. She said that their attitude was that any trouble he got into was the fault of his teachers because he is actually cleverer then them. She's tried ejecting him from class, only to find him agreeing a behaviour contract with his 'pastoral leader' and returning the next day to continue where he left off. "After a while, you just decide to put up with it," she said. I should know. In my first year I got ulcers, for starters.
But here's the kicker for me. I tried to talk to Ricky, to inform him that he had interrupted the class roughly once every ten seconds. He became pretty aggressive and defensive. "You can't put me into trouble. I have behavioural difficulties," was his excuse. "And what are are you doing about that?" was my response, which left him mumbling insults.
There are two issues that arise. Firstly, everyone has let Ricky down ( not to mention the other students he disrupts). His parents who refuse to accept the reality of his behavious, the school that caves in to their need for grades, the special needs experts who have provided him with the excuse of behavioural difficulties but clearly not worked on how he can address them, the teachers who have passed him on to their junior colleagues. Ricky is basically a bully, and everyone has facilitated him. He bullies the entire system.
Secondly, this is the hidden side of teaching. The bit that those who complain about the education system and teachers fail to see or mention. Ricky is not an unusual case. Almost every class has one, sometimes more. The student who literally wastes a third of everyones' time, who vacuums up resources and attention, who scuppers all your weekend planning and carefully considered lesson content, whom the system refuses to deal with. If it is students with special needs the system seems incapable of doing any more than coping - and often not even that. If it someone who is simply ornery and selfish, there are too many people who shirk and seemed scared of grasping the nettle. They let the students and parents bully them. Meanwhile, in her first year of being a public servant, Miss Lucas has to face Ricky and his ilk. Every lesson, every day, week after week, as well as putting in 60 hours and getting paid for 30 ,she's expected to shrug off the insults, threats and violence and just get on with it. After all, this is what thew authorities call low-level disruption.
Oh, apropos of nothing, I also read today that 15% of new teachers leave the profession within a year, and 50% leave within 3 years.