Are you the perfect role model in class? Alan Newland thought he was leading by example until his students questioned his behaviour management techniques. This is an extract from the Guardian…
…One year at the headteacher’s request, I took over a ‘very challenging class’, I think that’s the appropriate euphemism, of tough, street-wise and hard-boiled 10 and 11 year-olds. In this class there was a group of boys that had made life very difficult for their previous teachers. While I was known to be empathetic, I took a no-nonsense approach to teaching and that was to put it mildly. I was proud of my hard-earned esteem for being strict.
Though this was a tough and tenacious class, make no mistake, I looked forward to the challenge of ‘taming’ them, getting them to learn something and the opportunity to further enhance my reputation. There was also the compensation that the class included a very nice group of intelligent, able and amenable girls.
Within about five or six weeks, through a mixture of my tried and tested carrot and stick techniques acquired over the years, I thought I was getting on top of the situation. Colleagues and parents began to pay me compliments.
One day I was feeling particularly self-satisfied about my natural talents as a charismatic teacher, when one of the more troubled boys in the class, a notorious bully, well-known for a short fuse and a loutish demeanour, was involved yet again in what I interpreted was his habitually thuggish behaviour towards one of the nicer girls in the class.
I bore down on him in my well-rehearsed, iron-hard domineering way that had served me effectively with boys like him many times before. I towered over him, imposing my presence and physicality to emphasise his vulnerability. I fixed his gaze with an icy stare then embarked on a chastening tirade that began slowly with a tone of calculated menace and gradually rose to a crescendo of unfettered, ominous and voluble threat.
I watched as he visibly quailed and cowered, then he began to cry. To be honest I looked down at him and thought: “Good. That’s given you a taste of your own medicine. It might even teach you a lesson.”
During the lunch break later that day, I was called to the headteacher’s office. I had no idea why; so completely unconcerned I finished my lunch and sauntered in that direction thinking it was for some routine matter.
I arrived to find the boy again in tears, standing in the middle of the office refusing to sit down. The headteacher explained he had run out of school and gone home but his parents were at work and one of the teaching assistants had found him and persuaded him to return to school. She asked the lad: “Why did you run out of school?” After a moment of composing himself, he looked up and pointed directly at me. “It’s him,” he shouted, “It’s his fault.” Then accusingly he said: “He never tells the girls off. It’s only ever the boys.” Then he dissolved in tears again.
He looked up straight at me, and said: “You. You’re just a bully.”
It was the most shocking moment I was ever to experience as a teacher and looking back, I think I learned more about myself in relation to children from that single incident than any other that I can think of more than 20 years of teaching.
I realised I had been a role model in more ways than I imagined.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in Hackney and Tottenham for more than 20 years. He has also trained teachers, worked at the Department for Education and the General Teaching Council. He runs the social media network, newteacherstalk.