Yesterday I had a bad day at work. Normally I like my job, but yesterday was a really hard slog. It was all caused by one student.
This student wasn’t in the mood. For anything. All day. As part of his coursework he had to participate in a drum workshop led by a highly experienced and enthusiastic drum teacher, and the most he could muster was to put his head on his hands and tap the drum as quietly as he could. He was talking, messing about and generally being a nuisance.
After a warning, I sent him outside so I could speak to him. He walked off and went home. He’s 16 years old and this is not the first time that this has happened. In fact, he’s been given lots of chances over the years and his behaviour hasn’t improved. I’ve tried everything – different behaviour management techniques, consistent sanctions, liaising with his parents and form tutor, informing my boss, keeping him for extra coursework sessions… He doesn’t have any diagnosed learning difficulties, he has a supportive family and is fairly intelligent. He chooses to behave in this way simply because he knows that unless his behaviour is extreme, he can get away with it, and with a simple apology, a school sanction and telling off he starts the next day with a clean slate. I would be more understanding if he was a young child, but at his age he is now considered to be responsible enough to leave school, he can have sex, he can work full time, he can leave home with his parents’ consent, can get married with one parent’s consent, he can drink wine or beer with a meal in a restaurant, he can hold a licence to drive a moped, he can buy a ticket in the National Lottery. So why is he not allowed to take responsibility for his own education?
The main issue is that he is simply not allowed to fail – school’s are set targets that they have to achieve and we are under immense pressure to maintain ridiculously high standards. I know that his behaviour will not improve drastically in the four weeks before he is due to leave school, and I will have to spend my time chasing him up, pulling him into coursework catch-up sessions in the afternoons and half-term holiday to ensure that he has completed his coursework to an acceptable level. It is going to be a four week battle that will finish the year long battle that I’ve had with him, and I would much rather spend my time with students that want to do well.
I once had a conversation with a Deputy Head Teacher in which she proclaimed that she will constantly keep harassing the demotivated and lazy students because she doesn’t want them to make silly mistakes as a teenager that will affect their adult lives. While the notion is honourable, surely we are doing these kids a disservice by continuing in this fashion? As teachers we don’t just teach our subject, we take on the role of parent, guidance counsellor and confidante, and yet what I feel we are currently telling our students is that poor behaviour, lack of motivation and little work will still allow you to achieve your goals because an adult will step in and drag you to the finish line.
What I have discovered in life is that you only get out of it what you put in. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve paid for them, and I’ve learnt for the next time how to do it differently. There’s a fantastic quote from Michael Jordan about failure that I’ve seen used hundreds of times:
‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’
My student will pass his course because I will make sure of it. Not because I feel he deserves it, but because I know that if I fail him it won’t be him that has to explain why, it will be me and the quality of my teaching will come into question. And I can guarantee that when he first fails at something, it will be at a much higher price than if he was allowed to fail at school…
What about you guys? What have you learned from your failure?
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