Posts Tagged ‘vulnerable young people’

The New 3R’s of Education

October 16, 2016

The New 3R’s of Education.

As the world shifts and changes and becomes both more amazing and more disturbing we need a new focus in schools, a big focus on becoming decent people; citizens of an ever-changing world, able to survive, manage and even thrive in whatever is to come. So today’s schools must focus more explicitly on Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. Once upon a time this used to be the covert curriculum, and much of this rested in the hands of parents. But now it needs to be front and centre in schools too.


Respect covers a range of sins and must be paramount as we become a more uncertain world with borders shifting and changing, identity and gender being more fluid and more open, with religious and cultural differences more defined as we become a global community. It is as simple as respect for yourself and for others. But it is so much harder in practice.

There was a time where we embraced the ‘live and let live’ ethos of a more tolerant and accepting view of each other. But now we seem to feel free to abuse, vilify and attack on the slenderest of reasons. Indeed Social Media and the constant streaming of ‘news’ has to take some share of the blame for the rise in hate in society, but it can’t be that simple, can it?

Why do we feel free to berate and abuse others? Where did that ‘freedom’ come from?


Schools must be vigilant about respect, and in truth, many are trying to address the constancy of social issues that ever creep into our crowded curriculums. Respect is about tolerance, patience, consideration and kindness. It is being aware that others have different beliefs, customs, ways of living, attitudes and ideas. This is important as we don’t really want an homogenous society where we all think the same and parrot platitudes and dangerous ideas that are never challenged. Oh, yes, too much agreement and similarity is a very dangerous thing.

Thus instilling respect as a central tenant of how to live a decent life is crucial. 1.Respect for yourself, so you keep your body safe, so you can express your ideas freely but thoughtfully without hate and vitriol.

2.Respect for others, so they can get on with their own ways of life, be it of a different colour, different religion, different sexuality, different beliefs and ways of doing things.

3.Respect means understanding that there is no right way to do things, that there are many voices, many ideas, many people and we all have the right to exist peacefully in this world.


Responsibility is perhaps the thing in schools and society that does my head in most. For fuck’s sake, get a pen, learn how to cook, stop buying sugar-laden shit and expecting to be healthy, vote in elections, accept when you make a mistake and stop blaming everything and everyone else for your shitty life.

Being responsible for yourself, for your life can start early. Simple things like making your bed, putting your clothes in the wash, doing your homework, packing your school bag for the day ahead. Parents do need to build in these little pathways to responsibility early and naturally. It doesn’t mean you make them self-sufficient by 11 but by the time they get to secondary school most kiddies should be able to do a great many things for themselves.

Responsibility means being responsible for what you say and how you behave – under pressure and under normal circumstances – organizing your own life; owning it and making things happen.

Not being responsible is to expect all sorts of other people to make things happen for you and blaming them when things don’t fall the right way for you. So teaching responsibility early is vital for a human being who is self sustaining, accepts that sometimes things are their fault and doesn’t spend their life blaming, in no particular order – their parents, their teachers, the government, politicians, God, ISIS, Pauline Hanson, Trump, Clinton, etc, etc – for all that is wrong with their lives.


Loving parents and good schools (even when the system is against them – whose GCSE results are they??? Just ask a failing school…) ensure that young people take responsibility for what is theirs and do the right thing in owning both the good and the bad that they say and do. Responsible youngsters become responsible citizens who take on more than just managing their own lives, who take responsibility for making the world a better place.


Resilience became a fashionable term a few years ago and there were various programs designed to help make students better able to cope with their worlds when things went wrong. For my mind responsibility and resilience go hand in hand. A responsible person can accept their own short comings and face up to them and do something about them. They are able to work through the tough times and stay afloat.

A person who blames others, a child who is so cosseted by their parents (and yes, schools too) that they cannot cope with slights, or failures is going to have a very tough life. All this helicopter-parenting, this Tiger-mothering of the young does them no good in the harsh light of the real world.

Resilience is perhaps more important than ever in this world of cyber-bullying, trolling and stalking. Young people are more vulnerable than ever to the slings and arrows of others, piercing their young feather-light hides with barbs and poison that stings to the core. Teenagers are horrendously sensitive creatures, their self esteem balancing on a pin head. Of course they are vulnerable and in the glow of their screens, in the dark of their rooms they are more vulnerable than ever. Recent studies deplore the levels of self-harm and unhappiness that young people feel, not to mention the constant stress of exams and that old faithful, peer pressure.


If there was more respect for others, more tolerance of difference, of the outsider; if we took responsibility for our words and actions from the youngest age, there would be little need for resilience training for the young. But we must be aware that not all of us have the capacity to deal with the tough times, that not all of us have people who care enough to hold our hands and keep us steady through failure, rejection, self doubt, illness, bullying and harassment.

Resilience doesn’t make you callous, it doesn’t stop you feeling, it allows you to deal with the darker side of life and we need to prepare students in dealing with those things, the things that de-stabilise young people – lack of friends; ill, dead or absent parents, abusive families, drugs, bullying, failing to get the grades we expect, or into the uni course we so desperately want.


As a parent and a teacher I can bring these three elements to my teaching, to my dealings with young people. Honesty, integrity and authentic relationships with young people matter enormously. They need people they can trust – parents, teachers, coaches, other adults; people who will listen to them, be there for them, tell them the truth, and offer support in a practical and useful way.

Surely at the end of every day what we want is a better world, full of people who care about each other and themselves and are bringing good to the planet. God knows it needs it! (Images from Private Collection)


Don’t Stand so Close to Me

October 7, 2012

So sang the Police many years ago about a young teacher and a sexy pouty teenage student. He was tempted, there was gossip and tension, wet bus-stops and warm cars, and it was a great song. But it’s not a great story in the real world.

As we watched the story of the Maths teacher and the 15 year old student unfold we knew it could only end badly. It is not the thing of great romance or tragic suffering: an intimate relationship between a teacher and student is always wrong. Every time, no matter the situation, the orientations of the players or the reasons. All wrong. All ways.

A teacher’s role is one of privilege, of responsibility, of care and due diligence. It is normal for students to have crushes on teachers. God knows, my daughter has had a crush on her wonderful English teacher for three years. My best mate at school had one on our hockey playing, Holden driving Science teacher, such that we trawled the A block corridors at lunchtime hoping for a chance encounter and a smile. It all came to naught, as it should.

Yes, some teachers marry their students. Yes, affairs do happen. Remember the case from the States several years ago where the PE teacher became pregnant by her 14 year old student lover? She ended up in jail. At the moment there is another teacher-student relationship storm brewing in the USA and the case of the runaway Maths teacher from Bournemouth is yet to run its sorry course.

What was he thinking? He’s twice her age. He’s in a position of responsibility – in loco parentis, it’s called, where teachers act in place of a parent. To wit they care for the child, keeping them safe and relating to them appropriately. Let’s leave aside the fact that many parents do not relate appropriately to the their own children and look at why cases of student-teacher relationships are and should be taboo.

You can’t get away from the immense imbalance in power. A student is young, vulnerable, highly impressionable. They may not be all that innocent, and they may be very compelling and sexy and tempting but they are young, unworldly and unknowing. The teacher is the adult and must remain so at all times. If you don’t understand that a distance must be kept and that you cannot indulge in an intimate relationship then you are in the wrong job.

Parents, students and the wider community trust teachers with the young people in their care. It is an awesome burden, but one we should be proud of. Remember that the public rate us in the top 3 of trusted professions: this matters. It matters because it is about the future of our society, that we do make a difference. Thus we cannot abuse that trust.

That’s not too say that it can be hard keeping that professional distance. When you teach in deprived areas, or have students who are more vulnerable than others it can be all too easy to form close attachments to students. Sometimes they need an adult in their life who cares for them, who goes the extra mile: someone upon who they can rely and trust. It is right that teachers fill that role. But at the end of the day, the teacher must go home to his/her life and so must the student. Phone calls, text messages, FB etc are not on. The line in the sand must be observed: the relationship has to remain professional, even if extremely caring. The teacher is the adult and must remain the adult, in control of the situation, aware of their own feelings and the students.

As I’ve blogged before relationships are what matter most to students, what affects their learning and their lives. But teachers who go beyond the ‘rules’, the expectations of a caring teacher, do a great deal of damage: to the student – now and later in life; to the school and to the profession at large.



How do you avoid the trouble Megan’s Maths teacher got into?

1. Be aware of your feelings, know they have become inappropriate and deal with it – transfer, or get help from someone before it’s too late

2. Never be in vulnerable situations – don’t see students alone if you suspect their feelings or your own; never ever meet them out of school

3. Do not share your contact details with students – work emails for assessment purposes is one thing, private contacts another altogether

4. Thus avoid being friends with students – current and recently former on FB – be wary of how the student is connected to others who may be in school still and privy to private info about you that can compromise you

5. Do not share Twitter accounts for the same reason, or home emails, or blog connections. Remember the electronic world can be an evilly connected place –who knows who is watching and for what diabolical purposes??

6. Finally, if you know or suspect something unseemly regarding a colleague you have to report it. There will be someone in the school looking after CP (child protection matters) who can advise you and ensure something untoward does not happen, either to the student or to your colleague.

We know teaching is a minefield. Students can and do lie about teachers. Teachers can and do abuse their positions of trust. Many of us deal with needy and vulnerable young people every day. They do not need to come from impoverished backgrounds to be needy. We need to know the lines in the sand. We need to observe them at all times, to reflect on our interactions with young people, to ensure they are safe and able to navigate their way (often with our help) through some challenging times.

Remember, never stand too close to them… (Images courtesy Google Images)