Friday 21 October 2011

What Teachers Say

Periodically the media, fed up with criticising police, medics, teenagers and single mothers, rounds on teachers as their favoured target for that week. Today comes the revelation, posted by @mattleys, of a teacher hounded by her local newspaper for daring to tweet in a personal capacity: "How to ruin someone's life for no good reason". It's such a blinding summary, I wouldn't dare try myself here. I'll offer my comments in a bit.

The other thing that I've been thinking about is the brilliant "Educating Essex", a fixed-rig documentary about Passmores School and its staff. It's been hilariously blogged about by Tom Bennett The Behaviour Guru. In the opening credits, the English teacher Mr King tells his students: "Clear off, scumbags!". The Daily Fail and Torygraph took great offence, with "What sort of example is this to set our children? Teachers call pupils 'scumbags' and the head flicks V-signs at his deputy in school praised as 'outstanding'" and "Educating Essex: teachers call students 'scumbags' at outstanding school".

Now, to any teacher, it was clear that Mr King absolutely adored that class. The worse the noun, the more highly regarded the class usually is. The class of little sods - they're the favourites. The lovely little darlings - they're the ones who'll be chucking desks on a windy afternoon. Many is the time I've come into the lab and informed the class that we're starting the lesson with a cry of "Right, shut up you horrible lot". Add that to the long list of other reasons why I'm hated by the Daily Mail.

We teach children not to swear, because it is not polite, because it is considered unacceptable in the workplace (though you should have heard the sheer number of "fuck"s coming from Humanities corner this week!), and because a large number of people take offence at hearing bad language. I am not one of those people. I am not in the remotest bit offended by swearing, unless it is being used aggressively at me (and then it's more the aggression). I have a swear box in class instead of doing the discipline thing - the money goes to Shooting Star CHASE (the students wanted a local charity, a cancer charity and a children's charity, so the head technician suggested these guys). Last year we made over £25.

Occasionally I swear in front of students, but it's quite a rare occurrence, and never with anyone but the A2s. They get a bit more of a relaxed attitude, because I think they need to (and deserve to) be treated like adults, and that means being able to have an adult conversation with them, one scientist to the other (maybe this is easier because they're at college rather than school). Fieldwork is perhaps the most sweary point of the year - the occasional mock-exasperation "Oh for fuck's sake" is allowed to slip out (usually as another endearingly inept student nearly decapitates themselves with a quadrat). And the last student to allege that women could not park cars was strongly interrogated as to whether he wished to walk home from Park Royal.

Honestly, I've rather run out of steam on this post now (it's been going all evening in and around dinner etc). But I'm angry that the media presume to be able to interpret the relationship a teacher has with his students on the basis of two seconds of footage. And I'm angry that teachers are vilified by the media when they dare to interact with others in their personal capacity. I swear like a trooper when I'm off-duty. I expect to be able to sit in a pub, have a conversation at a normal noise level and occasionally say "shit" "blow-job" or "fuck" without the Chronicle splashing me over the front page. But then teachers are expected to not drink, smoke or have sex, and they're certainly not allowed to talk about it.

Oh fuck it. I'm tired. It's half-term and I can't be arsed. I'm going to bed, and then I might get round to dealing with the Email Inbox Of Hell. Or I might sleep all weekend.


  1. The press are pathetic in this regard, always have been and always will be (sadly). I hope the poor teacher at the centre of this furore realises that students have far more respect for teachers who treat them like adults.

    As for twitter... it's not as if it was the school's twitter account. If people want to improve the education system perhaps they should look at Gove's reforms, faith/free schools or the testing rather than getting het-up over a teacher's private life.

  2. I gather she is aware of the support, and there have been some cracking comments from students, hers and others', who adore and respect her for being open, honest and passionate.


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