The Secret Teacher in The Guardian reports that there is a low-level rumble of discontent in my school. It’s the sound of teachers’ concerns falling on deaf ears. Because our headteacher is listening to students, not us.
I believe in inclusion, but at my school this idea is taken to the extreme. My head takes on the most challenging students as a personal project, operates an open-door policy, and bends over backwards to keep them on the school roll.
These students seem to be given freedom to follow their own agenda in classrooms, and are encouraged to bypass their teachers and take any complaints straight to the head. Students feel heard, but teachers are shut out of the conversation. The result? Teachers’ authority is undermined and behaviour throughout the school is spiralling downwards.
Pupils excuse themselves from lessons, saying they have permission to see the head.
After such visits, staff are sometimes asked to explain a decision or incident raised by one of these pupils. One notoriously vexatious student complained about the way a teacher had organised their classroom because of where they were sat. The teacher was later questioned about it; it didn’t seem to have occurred to the head that they’d thought long and hard about the arrangement.
I would expect a head’s first response would be to defend the teacher and their reasoning – we all know what a Jenga game a seating plan can be: make one ill-thought out move and the whole edifice collapses.
All, and especially the most troubled, children should feel someone is on their side. But not if they are then pitted against those who are trying to help them. A leader who presents a united front with these kids makes the teacher feel they’re alone on the pitch in just their socks.
It’s a head’s job to lead – and, just as much, to listen. Perhaps more than in any other senior management role, there are two distinct groups of people to satisfy – children and the adults trying to corral them.
If we didn’t believe in inclusion we wouldn’t do this job – everything should be done to keep children in school and learning; that’s what teachers are in it for. But it can be almost impossible to manage some children when they believe they have immunity.
We, the teachers, need to be listened to too.
Is your head teacher taking more notice of the pupils than of you? Please tell us your thought in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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