July 31, 2005

Shock horror: "Staff are expected to teach social skills"

The BBC report, once again, on the apparently desparate situation in England regarding pupil behaviour. This time, for a change, it's not the teachers' fault but that of the parents. "Bad parents 'should be punished'" is the headline for a piece in which representatives from the Professional Association of Teachers claims that school is only a "glorified creche".

"Peter Morris, a teacher from Bishop Gore Comprehensive School in Swansea, spoke of "pupils fighting in the classroom, throwing computer monitors around the room". I've never seen that in a class of bloggers. They're far too interested in the task they are creating.

Anne Nuckley then told the conference in Buxton, Derbyshire: "Poor parenting fosters lack of respect and no manners.

"No wonder then that, having no guidelines, children enter education with limited knowledge about appropriate behaviour.

"Staff in education are expected to teach social skills which should have been learnt at home."

But is this not also the point of education in schools? We're not just teachers of French, of German or of Mathematics. We are there to show and teach social skills that (can you believe it?!) parents may not have taught themselves.

And in the classroom...
But I have seen success in pupils who are never 'meant' to succeed. One of the best strategies has been using ICT creatively in the classroom. I've seen apparently poor classes grasp film-making tasks, writing and speaking vasts amounts of foreign language, working as a team to get the task finished and also demonstrating communication skills in technology that would be the envy of most teachers.

I am now coming round to the way of thinking that blogs produced by pupils may provide an ideal opportunity to teach social skills. In fact, it is an ideal way to do it. Students are able to learn the netiquette necessary to read and write blogs successfully in no time at all. Let's take a look at those skills:

1. In a post, don't inflame negative emotions in others, or no-one will comment and post back;
2. In a comment, justify your opinion with something concrete;
3. Sending private emails can be one way to communicate, but it's a bit like whispering behind someone's back. Say the comment publicly in the blog and then everyone can share your work.
4. When you are writing, be clear, use language people understand, don't use obscene language (people who do use it in their blogs use it for occasional effect, and when they overuse it it's just "too much" - it loses its effect)
5. Don't bombard a page with comments or your own posts without having read other comments and taken them into account.

Are the skills in this inexhaustive list not the exact ones that Anne Nuckley is proposing teachers should not have to teach? If so, then the Professional Association of Teachers is, in my opinion at least, looking a little less than professional.


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Don't you think some teachers have a very limited idea of what their job is/should be? 30 years ago we took it for granted that the way we conducted ourselves in the classroom would automatically provide a role-model for pupils - and this tended to affect the way we behaved! After all - a young teacher is going to have to adopt a persona when they start work; some may continue to do so throughout their careers. It doesn't do to let the customers see ALL the warts!

The difference between 30 years ago and now, perhaps, is that student teachers are taught how to play this role-model, how to encourage social awareness. It makes the comments of this union even more out of place with the reality of what's being done in Initial Teacher Education today.

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Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

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