Wanted: lessons in discipline

By Simon Round, December 30, 2008
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A lot of people seemed surprised this week at a report claiming that male teachers had more problems with rowdy schoolchildren than their female counterparts.

Take it from someone who once went to school: this is no surprise.

Ok, so maybe JFS in the mid-70s wasn’t a genuine inner-city sink comprehensive, but there were still more than a couple of pupils who would today be described as “challenging” and were in those days labelled “psychos”.

There was one teacher who had absolutely no problems with even the hard cases. She taught French in my first year and went on to enjoy an illustrious career at the school. When she walked into the class on our first day, a hush descended. As she handed out the text books, she instructed us in a quiet but scarily intense voice that there would be serious consequences for anyone who did not hand in their homework on time. During the year she taught us, there were robberies, assaults, blackmail attempts and torture carried out by class members but everyone did their French homework.

While there were male teachers who had an idea about discipline, none had that aura of authority. At the time, many of the men were like Mr Jacobs (not his real name), dropouts from the hippy era who thought it might be a cool idea to, like, impart a little knowledge. And we did learn from him — we learned how to throw paper darts, how to jump on desks screaming, how to successfully avoid studying and how to make cheeky remarks from the back of the class (which has actually been quite helpful to me in my career, come to think of it).

When Mr Jacobs took a lesson, you wouldn’t hear him talking much about Jewish history. Rather he would be mumbling things like, “Hey guys, settle down, Linda, say sorry to Howard. Howard, you’d better go and dry off somewhere. Mark, I don’t think you should really be doing stuff like that with Louise until you’re a bit older. David, if you don’t put that knife away, I’m going to, like, confiscate it!”

Why were the men so rubbish at this side of things? Well, in my day at least, it was the women who did most of the disciplining at home and they were just better at it. When my dad came home from work he was much more likely to allow my brother and I to watch The Clangers or Crackerjack than was my mum, who had spent the day as a combination of boxing referee, emergency plumber and High Court judge. Dad was sometimes more indulgent — that’s not to say he was a soft touch, just that he perhaps failed to grasp how inherently evil we were. I’m the same with my children. When Lucy and Alex are on the floor laying into one another, I’m like, “Children, if you are going to be naughty, might I suggest you go outside for a little while.”

There must be more effective disciplinary measures but I just don’t seem to have the knack. To paraphrase a famous saying: “Those, who can, teach; those who can’t, write columns about it.”

    Last updated: 4:33pm, December 30 2008