A couple of weeks ago a study carried out by the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) revealed that nearly 90 per cent of our teachers and educators have experienced some degree of aggression from their pupils. Unacceptable pupil behaviour is one of the most serious problems which prevents teachers from fulfilling their potential as the educators of our future generations.
Classrooms in which students are disruptive are environments in which no one can learn. Yet in too many classrooms students are not being allowed to learn by their difficult peers. Instead, these ‘challenging’ students are openly and continually transgressing the boundaries which define proper, good behaviour, not only flaunting a lack of respect for learning itself but also for others within their immediate environment.
The time is ripe to eradicate this quite recent phenomenon which wreaks havoc with teachers’ morale and sets a destructive pattern within our classrooms. Whichever way we look at it, the balance must shift back in favour of our teachers. We need to somehow ensure that discipline is restored, giving teachers the essential autonomy to teach and every student the chance to learn.
Easier said than done, but in my humble view, perhaps emanating from a different generational point of view, the best approach to tackling undisciplined behaviour is to ensure that potential problems are dealt with immediately and effectively before they can escalate. Clear boundaries must be put in place and the recognition of the absolute authority of teachers within the school must be urgently reinstated.
If memory serves me right, in the not-so-distant past, schools had an ordered and purposeful ethos; with strict uniform requirements, politeness and good manners being the order of the day, sanctions for those who transgressed and a comprehensive list of behaviour rules which as pupils we knew better than to even think of challenging. The very idea of aggression in any way, shape or form towards a teacher was as alien as life on Mars. Sadly, these best practices are being eroded to the detriment of educators and pupils alike.
But good discipline goes well beyond the school gates. This is where I believe that we’re abysmally failing our children. For past generations, the idea of authoritarian parenting was the norm; no one in their right mind, unless they were up for a good belting, ever thought to challenge their parents’ authority. Families functioned to a set of rules wherein the word of the parent was akin to the word of God. Nowadays, to seemingly atone for what seemed like a harsh upbringing for most of us, we have totally abandoned this ‘outdated’ idea in favour of an impossible parenting concept, wherein we are no longer parents to our children, but their friends.
Do we need to go back? Do we even want to? Not necessarily, but with no clear boundaries and no actual figures of authority within the family circle, children are quickly losing sight of what is acceptable and what is not. Respecting children’s opinions and valuing their input within the family is the ideal, but boundaries need to be set otherwise the bond between parents and their children would simply become a silent battle for control, with children inevitably managing to get away with murder. Sadly, this blurred perception, of who makes the rules and who abides by them, is obviously filtering down to our schools, resulting in this current, unacceptable situation.
Aggression or violence should never be tolerated within a school context. Head teachers must have the power to suspend violent students from their school. No ifs or buts. In today’s world, violence of any kind towards any living being, including animals, has become intolerable, which is the way it should be. However, when it comes to this kind of terrible ordeal, we still find those who question the teacher’s attitude, behaviour or teaching method – ‘Perhaps he or she was being too harsh’ or ‘Perhaps he or she was picking on the student’. There is no justification whatsoever for anyone to suffer in this way, especially during the course of his or her work… Which begs the question; why in 2018 are our teachers still suffering in this way?