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Saturday, 19 September 2020

Every School Year Should be a Mr Hull Year...

Im glad schools and teachers are changing. I now know no *mean* teachers. We all do our best to ensure children in our care are happy, comfortable and want to be there.
{P4 gave me a love of art...} 

I have lots of memories of teachers beating me, kicking me, pulling my hair, drumming on the side of my head with their knuckles, lifting me by the ear, or the hair at the side of my head. I have memories of being humiliated by teachers. I've seen children humiliated during my teaching career... And I used to protect children from one old git (who thankfully doesn't teach anymore ) who used to scream at them (i used to usher them out of the classroom-or into the playground if I knew she was on her way).

I have never forgotten humiliations from people who really should never have been allowed near children. One incident sticks in my mind. I actually liked the teacher, she was "safe." 

Anyway, I sat at a table with very  upper working class/middle class children - other teachers children, a police officers child, a business owners child...

Teachers love to set challenges, sometimes not really understanding the crushing effect of that challenge on those who never can meet it. She set a challenge of a really difficult sum I knew my friends would get- one I really could not get near to achieving. I knew another embarrassing, humiliating time was firmly set in my future, so, I "switched off," as I always tended to do in the face of more crushing, embarrassing evidence of my stupidity. I didn't take part. I froze.

When it was time to reveal the answer, my table, to a person, got it right. The teacher , in order to heighten the humiliation (she probably just didn't think , or care about humiliation, lets be honest), asked all of those who got it right to raise their hand. Like the rest of the table, I raised my hand, but shut my jotter. The teacher then singled me out, knowing perfectly well I hadn't got it, as she knew I really found number work difficult. She asked to see the sum. Not only that, but to show it to the class. I flipped through my jotter and told her I had lost the page. She was really angry with me for my pretence, and I remember the heat of my burning embarrassment as she humiliated me in front of the class. At least she didn't hit, bang my head with her knuckles, pull my hair, break a ruler over my hand, slipper me, cane me or throw a, wooden duster at me. 

I was seven.
And as I say, she wasnt the worst... She was "safe," ie. She didnt physically abuse - this was a thing... Children in those days knew the hitters, the sadists and those who were safe- it was part of our conversation, especially at the start of a new school year. 

Other humiliations were centred around my reading, PE, my inability to remember the alphabet, times, tables etc. And I suffered physical abuse because of my inability to concentrate or recite things we learned by rote. Some humiliations and pain were expected. The ones that stand out were by teachers I trusted, including the one above. And this brings me to today. All teachers should be trusted by children. Careless talk, raised voices and humiliating feedback causes long term anxiety and has a mental health impact. Our behaviours and anxieties are absorbed as lessons, without the benchmarks, "I can" statements, on display. 

I'm glad to say my son enjoyed school. He had a very different experience from me. We can as teachers make mistakes, but we do our best to get to the bottom of behaviours and to help children see failure as a positive learning experience either about the skill, or themselves. My son is confident regarding his knowledge and skills (though the present work market, created by ten years of the failure of austerity politics , and now covid, are denting that a tad).

Teaching children that if they really want to, they can do something and watching them try and try without feeling embarrassed, is incredibly satisfying and actually quite emotional. I know no teacher who doesn't feel the same nowadays. 


And we teach children to recognise that everyone has different positive attributes. And I know that the absolute imperative for all teachers, are children who have a life long love of learning ... Something i didnt properly discover until i was in my late teens /early twenties. Or what I should say, I had all my life , but formal education was almost buried because of the absolute fear I had for school thanks to some god awful people who nowadays would be jailed.

(Primary school for me, was totally saved by the "safe" teachers- P2 Mrs Cunningham, who was kind and fun; P4, Mrs Russell, gave me a love of art; P6, Mr Hull, who made learning fun and school a place I wanted to be - a teacher I really will never forget as he made me feel like I was a valued part of a little community, and P7, Mr Carlton whose stories about driving tanks etc, were just damn interesting).

Children really should not fear school. School for many, is a haven. I love seeing children having a totally different experience of school than I did. Every year should be a safe teacher year.

Every year should be a welcoming, valuing, Mr Hull year.

All behaviour is communication, and that is a, two way street. The children's behaviour communicates their happiness, fears, anxiety... As does ours. Only, our behaviour also teaches children behaviour. Cold, unkind, anxiety driven behaviours designed to control, teach children the same anxiety driven behaviours we picked up from our childhood. We need to try to ensure those mental health impacting behaviours are driven out of the front line of education, into history. Society will benefit massively from that. And there are huge hurdles to overcome to get there.
It's incredible that there were actual debates and disagreements over the legislation that outlawed some of the abuse meted out in schools, just in the way there has been debate over the last twenty years over outlawing physical abuse meted out by parents. Children really are the last in the line when we talk about Equalities. Threats, screaming teachers and humiliation really must be the next front... The next inequality we tackle within our school communities. But to really do that, we must look again at the expectations we have of young kids... The expectations we have on teachers ticking through schemes of work, and the abuse of power meted out by adult managers on staff, because of pressures they are under. Anxiety driven abuse must be stopped. And to do that, education really must no longer be an exercise in time and motion study, or a place of "control." 

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