On being a hard-ass

Strict rules

Originally uploaded by Craig A Rodway

This is an issue that’s plagued me since the start of my teaching career and it’s something I’ve never quite gotten to grips with.

As a child I had a lovely upbringing, but it’s fair to say that my parents had clear and high expectations of my behaviour and general attitude. I had to ask permission to leave the dinner table, I had to listen when I was spoken to and I apparently didn’t know what a good hiding was (or so my mum used to tell me).

I happen to think I turned out OK. I consider myself to be well mannered, respectful of others and I seem to do pretty well for myself in life. Seeing that this model certainly worked in my case I’ve adopted a similar approach with my own children. As my children’s dance teacher once said to me, she knows what each parent is like. Some kids they get 3 chances, some get twenty, mine get told once.

Translate that to a classroom and some kids have recently told me that I like to argue, that I need to lighten up or that they wish I wasn’t their teacher/form tutor. It’s easy to laugh that off as just kids, or say that it means I must be doing something right, but I do wonder.

As a child you make mistakes. You do things and you might or might not realise that it wasn’t a great idea. It might be how many times you can tell the same joke (any parent of a 4 year old will know that they never tire of “knock knock – Doctor Who”), how far you can go with a bit of banter before you cause offence or whether you’ll get away with playing Google Pacman instead of finishing the 3D model of a house you were asked to design.

Yes, we need to steer the youngsters right and help them to make the right decisions (in this case once, not as far as you think, probably not), but we also need to make sure that we create positive relationships built on trust, respect and safety. I worry about how much of a barrier I put up by being too strict, and have expectations about behaviour and attitude that are perhaps not realistic.

As usual this is really an opportunity for me to reflect on my own teaching rather than being aimed at an audience, so I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I do think I probably get the balance a bit too far to one side and wonder how I can bring it back a little while still being me.

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7 thoughts on “On being a hard-ass

  1. Jill Berry says:

    But recognising this is the first step to being even better at what you do, I think. If you start off strict you can always relax a little when relationships are established, your classes trust and respect you (this is the relationship you’re aiming for) and they know that you are the one who is in charge of the classroom environment. Teachers who are too relaxed at the outset can find it much harder to ‘toughen up’ if they feel they have the balance wrong. Good luck!

  2. I think the word trust is the key in there. I had teachers I liked for being strict; I had teachers who I hated for being strict. But I trusted all of them. I had great teachers, and I never thought that any of them were mean without cause. I genuinely didn’t like the ones I didn’t like, and I messed around more in their classes, and gave them a hard time. But in retrospect I still think they were good teachers, and I think I learned from them. As long as you’re fair/consistent, being disliked isn’t the end of the world. You wouldn’t expect every one of a roomful of 30 adults to be your best pal, after all.

  3. It could have been me writing the paragraph opening with “As a child…” Mark, though I might also have added that I was also provided with an unequivocal understanding of the meaning of “No!”

    I suspect that in school, as at home with your own kids, you’ve got things right. Another teacher who might be somewhat less strict might also have got things right. For the students it’s about consistency – so long as you both uphold the conventions decided upon as being the ‘ground rules’ within your school community and although you may draw different lines as far as strictness is concerned, students ought to expect consequences for crossing those lines. But you already know these things.

    Life itself is complex, demanding we adopt appropriate behaviours in different places: the workplace, a cafe or restaurant, a sports field, the home. The fact that students spend time in classrooms with a shared set of commonly understood principles (the school rules), but with teachers with different expectations on top of that, is perhaps preparing them to be able to adapt to different circumstances?

    Bottom line – do students learn when they come to your lessons?

  4. It depends on the situation and the child how strict I am. It can be done in a family, but some of it would be difficult to pursue in a class room. Public signs like this, it’s decided for me.

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