Here is a little scenario:
You are being observed by a senior member of staff. You hands are clammy and you are gritting your teeth through every minute of this crucial lesson observation. This one hour may determine months of hard work.
You are speaking to a small group of students, correcting a simple misunderstanding. A student just behind you (of course, you know it is Lauren – it always is Lauren given half a chance) mutters to her friend: “I fucking hate English!” It is loud enough for you to hear. It is loud enough for her friends to hear. And they know you know.
It isn’t loud enough for the observer – who is busy scratching away at their lesson observation notes.
What do you going to do?
The short-term gain of not raking up a potential confrontation is balanced against the potential of weeks of further struggles. A knowing glare from Lauren. A victory of sorts. A Pyrrhic victory for you.
What do you going to do?
This small scenario is played out not just in schools across Britain, but in classrooms across the world. The recent OECD TALIS survey of teachers identified that the biggest factor that damaged teacher self-confidence was student behaviour. It is the factor that unites a work-force of millions. It smashes through national boundaries.
Stress and struggle in the classroom is a universal language. It isn’t all as romantic as the movies.
What is unique perhaps in our profession is how, despite most schools bursting at the seams with students and teachers, the act of teaching is a very private one. Student misbehavior is often a dirty little secret. We often dare not share this truth with our friendly colleagues – much less our senior staff who can often make the biggest difference. They, despite their best efforts, cannot experience the struggles they may well have once had with students like Lauren, given their relative status to students. Lauren knows which teachers are fair game.
Even in good schools, with supportive leadership and solid behavior management, this secret battle is being played out behind closed doors.
So, what would you have done with Lauren? If you are a standard teacher, grappling with a workload they spills into every corner of your life, perhaps your willpower is scarce. Perhaps you just let it slide. You will come back stronger tomorrow you hope.
It is scant comfort perhaps, but many teachers are doing the same. Across the corridor from you – across the world from you – people are keeping the same secret. Perhaps we need to talk about our dirty secret.
(Of course, Lauren is a fictional student)