Another brick in the wall

There are just so many important – nay, vital – lessons new teachers need to learn. Often related to discipline. Because, as we know, the young, enthusiastic teacher faces terrible dangers.

Dangers worse than Bear Gryll’s hard-core death-defying antics in the deepest jungles of the Amazon. The classroom jungle is more deadly and the teacher’s task Herculean by comparison. Last lesson on a Friday has teachers routinely confronted by 30 caged-and- hostile young savages, inhuman in their mindless need to end their enforced imprisonment. And their only weapon is probably just a grammar book – with exercises on how to correctly use the apostrophe!
You can see how Gryll’s encounters look easy- peasy. He merely has to escape from the Jaguar chasing him, the 40 foot anaconda rearing up in front, the hordes of hairy tarantulas, and a river frothing with a school of we-can-strip-a-whole- cow-in-20-seconds piranhas. He doesn’t have to educate them! His task is like an old-age home’s hot-chocolate-before-bed-time hour compared to the task of taming the roaring, howling barbarians with which the hapless teacher is caged last hour on a Friday. And the teacher has no escape!
In my first year, I cautiously approached the senior deputy in charge of discipline with the problem of unruly behaviour late in the day. I was very casual – no teacher ever admits he has discipline problems. “Just seeking some pointers, don’t you know, on how to occupy them,” I said, with a careless chuckle. He was no help. “I don’t have that problem. As you become more senior, the problem disappears.” It was only some time later, that I realised what one of the reasons for the problem disappearing with seniority was. He was on the timetable-setting committee. The first thing he did was to ensure he had last lesson free.
The biggest help came from my neighbour, a fast-approaching-retirement old codger. He called in after a particularly chaotic Friday, at the end of which I was face-in-hands, totally despairing after the class had left.
He surveyed my conscientiously decorated classroom – of which, incidentally, I was proud – it had taken lots of effort. I was determined to be a ‘good’ teacher. With a dismissive gesture, he said, “Firstly, get rid of that crap on your classroom walls.

has teachers routinely confronted by 30 caged-and- hostile young savages, inhuman in their mindless need to end their enforced imprisonment. And their only weapon is probably just a grammar book – with exercises on how to correctly use the apostrophe!
You can see how Gryll’s encounters look easy- peasy. He merely has to escape from the Jaguar chasing him, the 40 foot anaconda rearing up in front, the hordes of hairy tarantulas, and a river frothing with a school of we-can-strip-a-whole- cow-in-20-seconds piranhas. He doesn’t have to educate them! His task is like an old-age home’s hot-chocolate-before-bed-time hour compared to the task of taming the roaring, howling barbarians with which the hapless teacher is caged last hour on a Friday. And the teacher has no escape!
In my first year, I cautiously approached the senior deputy in charge of discipline with the problem of unruly behaviour late in the day. I was very casual – no teacher ever admits he has discipline problems. “Just seeking some pointers, don’t you know, on how to occupy them,” I said, with a careless chuckle. He was no help. “I don’t have that problem. As you become more senior, the problem disappears.” It was only some time later, that I realised what one of the reasons for the problem disappearing with seniority was. He was on the timetable-setting committee. The first thing he did was to ensure he had last lesson free.
The biggest help came from my neighbour, a fast-approaching-retirement old codger. He called in after a particularly chaotic Friday, at the end of which I was face-in-hands, totally despairing after the class had left.
He surveyed my conscientiously decorated classroom – of which, incidentally, I was proud – it had taken lots of effort. I was determined to be a ‘good’ teacher. With a dismissive gesture, he said, “Firstly, get rid of that crap on your classroom walls.

Much too bright and garish – it’s disturbing and unsettling – stirs the monsters up. You never see bright, ghastly colours in a mental asylum do you?” Mental asylum? Well, what do you say to that?
“Secondly, you do make every effort to make your lessons interesting and exciting, don’t you?” The way he said it made it sound like a cardinal sin, but I admitted, yes, I did try to interest pupils.
“Mistake number two,” he said, but not unkindly. “You’re too desperately enthusiastic”. He perched on my table. “What you need to do is to lull the little monsters into a drowse”. Startled, my head came up – but he corrected my misapprehension: “I said, drowse – not drown!”
He continued. “I’m referring, of course, to resorting to using that monotoned droning voice that goes on and on – and on. Carefully modulated to deep-hypnotic sameness, it gradually but inescapably, sinks the little buggers into a coma.” He saw my scepticism and explained: “See it from their side. They’ve had a full week of hours and hours of teacher pay-attention-do-as-I-say desk-torture. So, like two-year-olds in tantrum mode before bed- time, they need to be lulled into submission.”
He continued: “The droning monotonous voice is a learnable skill. Some, of course, are born with it. Those usually become ministers of religion. But in the classroom, less is more. By using less late-in-the- day enthusiasm, less loud voice, less show-case classroom pictures, less well-intentioned-force-fed- education, you get more restful pupils, more peace all round, more unstressed teachers. Lull them to within an inch of catatonia and you can start the weekend without first needing quantities of fortifying fluids to shake off Frazzled Friday Syndrome.”

Bruce Pinnock enjoyed a long and illustrious teaching career.

Category: Winter 2019

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