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Controlling and Caring:

Some teachers give the impression that they care a great deal about young people. Some seem just to want control. In truth all teachers fit on the following grid somewhere.


High Control/Low |care

Funnily enough the last time I witnessed this approach was an RE lesson in South Yorkshire. The teacher’s approach put me in mind of a t-shirt that used to be advertised in the back of the NME:

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet I will fear no evil…’cos I’m the meanest son-of-a-b*** in the whole valley”

Her introduction to the lesson went like this: “You will SIT down! You will NOT talk! You have DONE the revision, you have GOT your books and there is NO reason to speak to ANYONE. If you DO so much as whisper I will SEND for on call and YOU will be in BIG trouble. IS THAT CLEAR?

I was terrified, never mind the kids. Any notion that this was religious education and might possibly be linked to enlightenment, spirituality and dare I say it ‘love’ had clearly bypassed this teacher altogether.

There are of course some cynical staff who have done their deal with the devil and will tell you that this approach ‘works’. What we need here is a debate about what ‘works’ means. Yes it might temporarily bolt the pupils to their desks and wire their jaws shut. However, it will not help them learn. Frightened children do not learn very well. It will not instil a life-long love of learning either.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as capable of delivering a furious bollocking as the next man and sometime s it has to be done. The problem is that any peace established by these tellings-off rarely lasts. Pupils soon forget and go back to chattering. Plus, once you’ve let go your tactical nuke in response to a bit of chatter, where do you go when something really nasty happens? Also, you’re teaching the pupils that they way to deal with problems in verbal violence and that’s heck of a big boomerang to throw out into your classroom. Try to keep your anger in reserve for issues that carry some moral weight.

Low Control/High care

At the opposite need of the spectrum.  These teachers go in wanting to be the kids’ friend. I see Peter last week teaching French in Wakefield .  Twenty eight year 8 pupils are interrupting his every sentence with calling out and messing about. “Guys, guys!” he keeps calling out. While calling out the register he breaks off to answer every called-out question. He buzzes about the room like a big friendly bear exuding positivity but no one is learning anything because he simply hasn’t got a grip on them. This approach doesn’t help anyone learn and it doesn’t last. After half an hour Peter’s had enough and suddenly shouts: “Right, I’ve HAD enough. You are NOT working. You are MESSING ABOUT. There is TOO MUCH TALKING and I’m FED UP with it”. Is the rhythm familiar? We’re back in the low care/high control category. Without routine, structure, boundaries and consequences, the high care cannot be sustained and the approach has flipped.

Low Care/ Low Control

The worst of all possible worlds. “Mess about then. I get paid the same!” is the most cowardly way out. To deny that you’ve any kind of mission in your professional life – giving the impression that spending time with kids is a prison sentence and what happens during your time is immaterial because you have pulled up your emotional drawbridge and cannot be touched. The complete abdication of responsibility and denial of care. Spiteful, sulking and indefensible.

High Care/High Control

This is what we want. There are routines and boundaries in place. Pupils are rewarded for good effort, attainment and behaviour. Poor behaviour attracts other inevitable consequences. The teacher, just like Peter wants to do his best for the pupils but he also demands the best from each pupil.

I was on supply in Sheffield not long ago, standing in the science lab behind my adopted desk when a girl came bowling into the room at very high speed and shrieking at even  higher volume.
“Out!” I said, pointing to the door. I followed her out and said quietly “Look, I haven’t fallen out with you, it’s just that you know how to come into a classroom and you know that that wasn’t it don’t you .So just come back in and we’ll be fine for the rest of the hour ok?”

I heard one lad at the back of the class say quietly to his mate: “This one’s not taking any s***!”
Well sir took some, but perhaps less than I might have done if I’d failed to point out that proper standards apply. We have to do our best and we have to insist in their best.

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If you have:

  • Some of your staff keep getting into unnecessary confrontations with pupils?
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  • Get pupil voice working?

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