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When a kid takes it upon themself to choose to act like an utter tool in one of my classes (and yes, I say ‘choose’ as anyone who thinks kids can’t choose to behave in the vast majority of cases doesn’t give them any kind of respect, at all, or hasn’t met enough of them) I often take the hugely innovative step of pointing out to said kid that their behaviour is making them appear to be very much like someone who closely resembles an utter tool.
A lot of the time, this action is met with utter disbelief and leads to many a protestation on behalf of the young person whose impression of an utter tool is massively convincing but apparently in no way linked to them being an actual utter tool. And anyway I have no license to make such an observation anyway as I am not allowed to point out to the young person doing a completely fabulous impression of an utter tool that they have decided to do a completely fabulous impression of an utter tool as utter tool identification is covered in subsection 14.7 of the Human Rights Act that states:
‘Children have every right to act like an utter tool and not get called up on it because that’s against their human rights or something.’
The breaking of this central facet invariably leads to threats of report to my SLT, the alleged utter tool’s parents, the appropriate authorities and various local media outlets. To this, I have a bit of a chuckle, state that I care not a jot about the aforementioned threats as I myself am, in actual fact, a complete and utter tool.
And it takes one to know one.
Now, I don’t spend every hour that I teach pointing out the various failings of the kids that are unlucky enough to be faced by the horrendous prospect of an hour two in my company (although, having just written that down, it kind of sounds like my ideal job, so if you’ve got something going like that at yours, drop me a line) but I’ve also never been one to lie to children, even if that sometimes seems to be what is expected.
I hear ‘building relationships’ bandied about in reference to teaching a fair old bit. It’s the key to everything apparently. Any problem you ever encounter in the classroom can be overcome if you’ve spent enough time building relationships, as if human interaction is akin to completing the construction of a set of drawers from Ikea. (No, actually, I realise that’s often impossibly hard you get what I mean). I’m all for making sure the oak-veneered MALM of relationships is solid, but the thing is, when people say you need to build good relationships with kids, what that often means in practice is placating them at all costs. ‘Build the relationship’ becomes ‘keep them happy’ as if that’s the only desirable outcome of any relationship. I’ve been in relationships like that. They suck.
So forgive me as I morph into a tabloid agony aunt for a second but, for me, a real relationship needs a couple of central things: mutual respect and honesty. The last one being absolutely crucial.
The problem is that being honest and making someone happy doesn’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes, to build a relationship of any type of worth, you have to be prepared to say things that people don’t want to hear, things that might make them angry, or shock them, or hopefully help them figure out that what they’re doing is completely and utterly tool-like. Because if they don’t hear it from someone in authority like your good selves,they might get it into their heads that some of the unthinkably awful things they’re doing are OK. And if that keeps happening, well, there’s definitely going to be a lesson learned, and if I’m being honest (see what I did there?) it’s not a good one.
So, when Harry kicks the chair out from under someone and then laughs at them or Simone indulges in a bit of casual in-school cyberbullying at break times and I find out about it, I hope our relationship is strong enough to withstand me making it damn clear how awful they’re being. Because that’s what I’ll be doing. And if that means our mutual relationship Malm gets a bit wobbly for a while, then so be it.
Relationships are fine, but they have to be healthy and productive and honest.
And completely and utterly un-tool like.
Thanks for reading.