“They hate English – they told me last week in class!”
Ever heard a teacher say this in the staff room? I always find myself leaning in with one ear open to hear what is said next.
“They just mess about and distract everyone else”, “They hate me, just because I teach English”, “How can one kid be such a massive pain in the class?”
At this point, I have always had a struggle with myself, an inward battle of whether or not to jump in and ask if they have taken the time to find out why the learner hates English so much… or should I just sit there thinking it?
I sometimes feel people cringe when I remind the “they hate me!” teachers that we are teaching human beings, not a subject.
I can see some stalwarts roll their eyes but usually, I trundle on reminding people that you are teaching an entire human being how to improve their English skills, and to do that they must consider the person holistically.
An ‘open emotion’ policy in class works for me and has on occasion de-escalated a situation before it begins.
We all know the scene… student arrives to class, coiled like a spring and expecting the teacher to ‘have a go’.
It doesn’t really matter who they are or what they teach; an explosion of emotion is likely to emerge as soon as they say “You’re late – again!”
My idea encourages students to let me know if they are having a bad day as they arrive.
I don’t mind if they shake their head or give me an agreed ‘not a good day’ sign.
No need to expand on it there and then, but it indicates to me to approach with caution and not select them first in Q&A.
During the session or at the end, we discuss the feelings they are having and work on what we can control and what we can’t, to build resilience and put problems into perspective.
If I was to approach them at the beginning of the lesson it probably wouldn’t be the right time to jump in without considering the emotions attached.
However, I find that by allowing the student to have a few minutes’ peace to moan and wallow in either their anger or self-pity, they then seem to slide into the lesson without too much bother, saving me the energy in arguing with them and giving them the safe space to recognise their emotions.
I have always been drawn to working with students with barriers to learning – those whom other teachers might write off as bad, simply because of the behaviour that they have witnessed in class.
It is rarely the case that the behaviour is the person. Having worked in settings where young people have exhibited some horrific, even life-changing behaviour, spending time getting to know them allowed me to see the child underneath.
No one is born bad. Not everyone has the same life chances. Not everyone is brought up in safe and nurturing environments. The ones who aren’t are the unfortunate kids, the ones who turn to crime or gang culture as a way of fitting in, to gain a sense of belonging.
It can begin with exclusion from school and can force a negative pattern of behaviour. Seeing the value in a young person and giving them something to work towards usually sets them on a more positive tangent, towards meaningful employment and a fulfilling life.
Behind the behaviour
Considering the ‘hierarchy of needs’ (physiological - food and clothing, safety – feeling secure, love and belonging needs – including friendship and esteem) may seem a simplistic way to evaluate a person’s situation, but next time you think a child is a pain or a nightmare, stop for a moment and question the reasons behind the behaviour.
Chances are, they are not a bad kid. They are not attention seekers but they do need attention.
Be the person with consistent, kind behaviour; the teacher they can rely on. And persevere. Be more kind - it will be worth it.
CPI's Classroom Culture training is for all education professionals interested in fostering a positive culture within each classroom. Find out more on our Classroom Culture programme page.