While school staff do their best to help students improve their behaviour, many feel schools are blamed unfairly for the bad behaviour of some students. This is particularly so when students use social media while at home to organise a fight. Such events, as reprehensible as they are, should not be viewed as a failure of the school but as evidence of a much broader social issue.
It now seems to be an automatic response when students are involved in bad behaviour to call on the school to manage the behaviour or to suggest the school is “out of control.” But it doesn’t mean the problem should be seen as a school problem.
Teachers have the responsibility of teaching all students whether they are reluctant to learn, whether they challenge the teacher’s authority or whether they behave aggressively towards other students. I expect teachers to have behaviour management strategies to defuse potentially explosive situations, prevent behaviour outbursts in students with a ‘short fuse’, and maintain an orderly classroom environment. All of this is within the teacher’s responsibility and the vast majority do it extremely well.
The Department backs up our teachers with school psychologists, chaplains, professional learning programs in behaviour management and special facilities such as behaviour centres. It’s a big commitment of resources and expertise, and reflects our willingness to do our share of the heavy lifting in relation to behaviour issues.
But if students are having aggressive behaviour modelled for them at home, if children are no longer taught self-control from a young age, if they live in a community where violent behaviour is commonplace and if society no longer places a value on restraint and respect for others, it is not surprising some students come to school predisposed towards aggressive behaviour.
There is good evidence that children from a young age can learn impulse control, respect for others and property, how to function in a social group, how to deal with frustration, to develop empathy for others, and to learn how to solve problems without violence. Schools do their best to teach students these lifeskills but need parents as partners in this endeavour. Parents need to take responsibility for their children’s development and behaviour. Responsibility has to be taken by the community also for addressing these issues with Government services playing their part.
My concern is that if potential high quality teacher applicants feel they are going to have the problems of society sheeted home to them – and be expected to solve problems that are way beyond their jurisdiction – they are going to think twice about becoming teachers.
That would be a real shame. We want to have the very best people teaching our children and young people – teachers who feel valued and acknowledged for what they do rather than criticised for failing to meet unrealistic community expectations.
A longer version of this article appeared in The West Australian on Friday 17 May 2013.