Thursday, April 07, 2011

BOOK REVIEW of The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For

Parents and taxpayers shouldn't get overheated about faculty salaries: tenure is where they should concentrate their anger. The jobs-for-life entitlement that comes with an ivory tower position is at the heart of so many problems with higher education today. Veteran journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley, an alumna of one of the country's most expensive and best-endowed schools, explores how tenure has promoted a class system in higher education, leaving contingent faculty who are barely making minimum wage and have no time for students to teach large swaths of the under- graduate population. She shows how the institution of tenure forces junior professors to keep their mouths shut for a decade or more if they disagree with senior faculty about anything from politics to research methods. And she examines how the institution of tenure – with the job security, mediocre salaries and low levels of accountability it entails – may be attracting the least innovative and interesting members of our society into teaching.


As staff walk out at a school plagued by violent pupils, teachers who dared to confront thugs in classrooms across Britain reveal how THEY were the ones to be punished

Staff at a struggling secondary school who are today staging a walk-out in protest of an escalating wave of verbal and physical abuse from pupils have won support from a teacher who made a similarly strong stand against classroom indiscipline.

Beleaguered teachers at the Darwen Vale High School in Blackburn, Lancs, overwhelmingly voted to go on strike in protest at what they see as the lack of support from senior management in dealing with pupils’ challenging behaviour. The children had been pushing, shoving and constantly swearing, leaving hard-pressed staff at the end of their tether.

Last month, a disciplinary hearing decreed that Michael Becker, 63, a teacher with an ‘exemplary’ record, should be allowed to return to the profession he loves despite an earlier conviction for assaulting a pupil. Mr Becker, 63, of Stutton, Suffolk, who reacted firmly to an unruly pupil, said: ‘I have enormous sympathy for these teachers who daily run the gauntlet of rowdy and aggressive children. I applaud their action.’

Two years ago, Mr Becker was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay £1,875 costs by Suffolk magistrates who believed the account of a disruptive 13-year-old who was in his class. The boy said the teacher had used unreasonable force to eject him from a lesson. Mr Becker has always contested that he had merely grabbed the boy by his belt and sweatshirt and removed him to a nearby storeroom when he refused — after repeated warnings — to stop telling particularly offensive and inflammatory racist jokes and leave the classroom.

When, last month, the General Teaching Council ruled that he could return to the classroom, Mr Becker said: ‘I’m delighted. I feel I’ve been vindicated. I just cannot describe the relief. I believe common sense has, at last, prevailed.’

And so, it would seem, do his many supporters. Roland Gooding, the former headteacher at the special school where Mr Becker gave ‘exemplary’ service for more than three decades, told the tribunal he ‘would not hesitate’ to employ Mr Becker again — adding public interest would not be served if he was forbidden from teaching.

At a time when schools are experiencing shortages of science and maths teachers, it would indeed seem a folly to ban Mr Becker from teaching, as he is a specialist in both.

His other passion is music: the school band, which he set up and ran, made ten albums — the proceeds of which went to charity — and appeared on television. In recognition of this laudable work, Mr Becker and his wife Ilona, 62, a retired secretary — who are parents to a grown-up son and daughter, and grandparents — attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

However, Mr Becker acknowledges that he did ‘overstep the mark’. He has also expressed genuine apologies and regret. But he would like to see the law clarified so other teachers fully understand what constitutes ‘reasonable’ force in removing disruptive pupils from lessons.

For his experience is not a one-off. It is replicated on a daily basis in classrooms throughout Britain, where teachers are expected to exercise almost saintly forbearance when confronted with pupils’ insolence, foul language and rowdyness.

‘All the power is with the children now,’ says Mr Becker. ‘Indiscipline is rampant and it seems to be a mark of honour to bring down a teacher.’ Mr Becker believes his experience is an extension of the barmy extremes of political correctness that currently hamstring every aspect of school life: the ludicrous health-and-safety zealotry that dictates pupils can’t make collages out of old eggboxes or loo roll holders any more for fear of contracting salmonella or ingesting germs; the nannying that forbids conker fights; and the absurd ‘risk assessment’ exercises that precede every trip outside the school gates.

Moreover, today’s discipline strategies are short-changing the diligent — an inequity not lost on Mr Becker. ‘Pupils stroll round classrooms as if teachers don’t exist,’ he says. ‘The boy I reprimanded was using his mobile and telling racist jokes. He was being unbearably insolent. It infuriated me that he was denying the other pupils their entitlement to learn without disruption, so I removed him.’ He adds: ‘Teachers should be allowed to teach. It’s a scandal that the system has forsaken those who want to learn.

‘My colleagues are constantly struggling with disrespectful and sometimes violent pupils. I know of one teacher, in a middle school, who is told to ‘f*** off’ 20 times a day. While other countries — many in Asia — are ascending the educational league tables, we are sliding down them.’

While parents would once support teachers’ efforts to discipline their children, now they are more likely to collude with their unruly offspring against their teachers.

Rita Burgess (not her current name), 55, teaches at a primary school in a deprived area of Liverpool. Her experience proves just how skewed in favour of children’s ‘rights’ the system has become. A year ago, two of her nine-year-old pupils were brawling in the classroom. She intervened to separate them. One of the children then ccused Mrs Burgess of assault, claiming she had strangled him.

The entire incident had been witnessed by the school’s assistant head, who testified that Mrs Burgess had merely broken up the fight. Had common sense prevailed the incident would have ended there, with a stiff reprimand and sanctions for the pupils.

But it didn’t. Preposterous though it seems, it was Mrs Burgess — a teacher with an unblemished record and 23 years experience — who was put through the wringer.

‘The headteacher said he could not take my word, which was corroborated by the assistant head, about what had happened,’ says Mrs Burgess. ‘He said if he did so, the parents would assume I’d colluded with my colleague to take sides against the children.’

What happened next is the stuff of nightmare. Mrs Burgess was suspended from her post for six weeks while the head carried out his investigation. In the time it took to accrue evidence — which exonerated Mrs Burgess unequivocally — she began to suffer from depression. ‘It was terribly stressful. I thought I was going to lose my job,’ she says. ‘Worst of all was the sense of utter betrayal.

Presumably the headteacher was obeying “procedures”, but we’ve now reached the point where heads are so frightened of litigation they give more credence to the word of children than to the testimony of two responsible adults.

There have been many instances of older pupils who’ve conspired against teachers and told lies just to get rid of them.’

Mrs Burgess’ experience is commonplace. It is replicated in schools all over Britain and it indicates how the ‘human rights’ of unruly pupils are trampling over the far more compelling right of the well-behaved to be educated.....

Mrs Burgess’ comments strike a chord with Basil Howard, a former head of religious education at a Midlands comprehensive. Mr Howard, dismayed by the daily verbal assaults on him by pupils, left the profession suffering from stress to become a social worker. He says: ‘I took my job seriously. I was a good, imaginative teacher. Even so, unruliness in the classroom was routine.

‘Pupils would wander aimlessly around, the more disruptive of them swinging Tarzan-like from the curtains. ‘“Mr Howard is a ****” was engraved indelibly by penknife and ink into desks. And I was expected to suffer this in silence. “You are a useless w***** and RE is pathetic,” was a typical torment.’

Like Mrs Burgess, Mr Howard notes that today even the most unruly pupils are indulged because they have ‘conditions’ that warrant quasi-scientific labels. ‘I believe the rot set in when teachers’ obligation to maintain discipline was undermined by pupils’ rights,’ he says.

‘Kids who are simply too idle to work are now excused because they have “learning difficulties”. My years as a social worker have taught me that children genuinely afflicted are, in fact, a tiny minority.

‘Moreover, teachers have become afraid to damage the fragile sensibilities of their pupils and school reports are so cloaked by euphemism that they are meaningless. What happened to the short, sharp shock of the one-liner? “Must do better” and, “An awful performance” leave no room for doubt or misinterpretation. ‘The pendulum has swung too far in favour of tolerance and acceptance.’

Small wonder, then, that so many pupils, denied boundaries and discipline at home, have no sense of the meaning of such out-moded values as respect, diligence, reliability and courtesy.


Nearly two-thirds of Australian teachers want to quit - survey

NEARLY two-thirds of Australian teachers are considering quitting their jobs for a new career.

The Centre for Marketing Schools was commissioned to survey staff satisfaction levels of 850 teachers in government and non-government schools in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Centre for Marketing Schools director Dr Linda Vining said the survey confirmed the "deeper issues" of concern to teachers.

They included a lack of communication between staff and principals, and feeling undervalued and not being consulted.

"Teachers are feeling steamrollered . . . they are feeling that things are happening too quickly," Dr Vining said. "Through my research comes a sense they feel they are not valued members of the team - they are simply there to work and for many of them that's not fulfilling."

The survey also found:

SIXTY per cent of teachers said the school's direction was not clearly communicated.

FIFTY-ONE per cent did not feel part of a close-knit school community.

FIFTY-FOUR per cent said communication between staff and management was poor.

TWENTY-SEVEN per cent said the school principal was not approachable.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill said he had been "concerned about the morale of the workforce" when he was put in charge of the portfolio.

He said he had since announced a range of new policies aimed at improving communication between the central office and teachers.

"Many of the Supporting our Teachers initiatives are directly aimed at addressing teacher morale - such as the Public Teaching Awards, a major conference about teaching in the 21st century, a new outstanding teacher classification, a new recruitment policy and the Teacher Renewal Program," he said.

Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le Duff said a more strategic approach to teacher retention was vital. "It seems unusually high that such a high proportion of people in teaching would be looking for alternative careers," he said. "But we certainly have to accept that people are more mobile in their occupations than a few years ago . . . and be more strategic in what sort of career pathways we're offering teachers."


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