Monday 22 April 2019

Beware of those six-year-olds

I am still trying to understand how a classroom of six-year-olds can end up being termed “unmanageable” to the extent that no teacher seems to be able to control them, let alone teach them. A supply teacher has been sent in to teach the class instead.

The story concerns Zabbar primary school where a teacher, who had been given a written warning in March because she had made an unruly student kneel down in the middle of the schoolyard to be mocked, was now finding it impossible to cope with several of the children.  Having picked up on the fact that the teacher had been “told off”, some of the kids had (inevitably) taken the upper hand, assuming that now they could not be disciplined.  As we say in Maltese “ghamlu l-aria”.

According to the MUT, despite apologizing,  the teacher was not being allowed to move past the incident and get on with her job. The Times reported that, “An Education Ministry spokes­man said the school had done everything possible to assist the boy and his parents after the incident. This included bringing in a counsellor, psychologist, learning support assistant and an anti-bullying team.”  (Here I have to pause and draw a deep breath as my brain absorbs this piece of information).

The teacher who “had never had any such problems and was competent at her job” is at the moment out on sick leave.

Let me make it clear that I am not condoning this type of punishment meted out by this teacher, although I am giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she resorted to this extreme measure because she was at the end of her tether. Humiliating children goes against every principle of education and if matters have reached this point, the teacher might want to reconsider her choice of profession.  I’m also curious why she was not simply transferred to another school to avoid having to be humiliated herself by facing children who were armed with the knowledge that their teacher had been disciplined.

On the other hand, the facts which are emerging is that complete anarchy seems to be reigning in this particular classroom, so it seems the bad behaviour has spread to the rest of the children. How else can the conclusion be that the entire class is unmanageable? The whole class? What? Not even one kid which is well-behaved? It would be funny (I have this vision in my mind’s eye of these kids dressed like terrorists while their terrified teacher is tied to a chair as they wait for the ransom money to be paid), if it were not so worrying. Once again it seems we have swung the pendulum from one extreme to the other: from the unacceptable corporal punishment of 50 years ago to the ridiculous situation today where teachers’ hands are tied to the extent that they seem to be at the mercy of the children/parent tandem.

Like every situation under the sun, there are always two sides. On the one hand you have teachers who say they no longer have any semblance of authority when it comes to disciplining school children in any way and even a raised voice has some mothers and fathers rushing to their child’s defense claiming an irreparable blow to the youngster’s “self-esteem”. On the other side, you have parents who are simply being protective over their children and whose hackles rise at the very hint that a teacher might possibly be abusing their authority.

Now before parents come down on me like a tonne of bricks, protesting that there is no way they would allow their child to be shouted at by any teacher, let me just ask them whether their nerves have ever been frazzled to breaking point by their own children? Times when they have threatened blue bloody murder (metaphorically of course) and conjured up all sorts of punishments to correct naughty behaviour. Because I am sure there have been. Now close your eyes and multiply that by a class of 25 or more.

Raising children is a never-ending battle of wills as kids test your patience and do everything in their power to see just how far they can push your buttons before they see your head implode – or that’s what it feels like sometimes anyway. I’ve watched even kids as young as two go from a hysterical, crying tantrum to a beaming “innocent” smile in seconds once they get their own way, followed by what only can be described as a downright gleam of triumph in their bright little eyes.  Any sign of weakness that a parent will cave in and give the child what they want if the tantrum/screaming/crying/sulking lasts long enough and you’ve had it. The power which children can have over adults who waver or are inconsistent in their discipline is enormous; one chink in that armour which parents have to hold in place over their hearts and the child will “strike”, playing on their guilt like the little skilled manipulators they are.

Because it is manipulation you know; manipulation of the situation whatever it may be, either for attention when none is being given or simply to continue basking in being the focal point of adults within a two metre radius. Any child psychologist will tell you that kids often act up with their parents for negative attention (because even being yelled at is better than being ignored). In a classroom of children all vying for the attention of one teacher, it is easy to understand how naughty behavior can be the fallback option.

The Zabbar’s school “uncontrollable children” situation is our chance to evaluate if we have taken things too far by stripping teachers of much of their authority in classroom situations.  A little bit of discipline, when correctly administered, never hurt anyone. But if children feel they no longer have to obey a teacher because of incidents such as this, then we are on the way to completely undermining the very role of educators.


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