Moments of truth?

Recently I had a rather politically-incorrect discussion with a colleague about Special Educational Needs. We were really only chewing the cud, and this is not an endorsement of a view from what was in effect a fly-wing-pulling exercise. The premise was, however, that the existence of S.E.N. may encourage an exceptionalist and overly-dependent self-image in some individuals, which may not do them any favours in the longer term. Others may pick this up and run with it if they wish!

The feedback from a recent lesson observation commented that my class seemed quite ‘needy’. I wasn’t quite sure whether that was a criticism of me for having somehow made them so, or a general comment on the individuals concerned.

My instinctive thought was, “They’re children!” Children are often educationally needy, no matter how we like to think of them as miniature postgraduates; I would rather they were engaged enough to be needy than didn’t care less. The class concerned is a likeable, biddable middle-ability lower school class whom I know well. They seem to enjoy my lessons and are keen to please. They generally have a good work-ethic, and were no doubt somewhat anxious about having a deputy-head in the room. Why wouldn’t they come across as needy? And if they don’t need anything, then what am I doing there?

Yes, I am being somewhat tongue-in-cheek to make the point, and I am not decrying attempts to develop children’s independence – but to expect them not to ‘need’ their teacher is rather surprising.

Later, however, another thought occurred to me: given the intense emphasis on teacher quality (of which many pupils are all too aware), perhaps we are encouraging them to think that they depend to an excessive amount on teachers doing things for them. After all, if teacher quality is so utterly indispensible, it follows that it is vital for children to need to depend completely on these stalwarts. It is then only one step from devolving such responsibilities to the teacher to neglecting one’s own responsibility as a pupil – and maybe we encourage them to take that step too, by telling them about all the good things they ‘deserve’…

I put this to the test with a few classes in recent days, as opportunity permitted, by initiating a commentary to the effect that we all know how important good teachers are and how much they will do for you – but how it is all wasted unless the pupils  make good use of it by playing their part. In other words, I moved the emphasis from “How good is the teacher” to “How good is the pupil?”

Our children come from backgrounds that, if anything are over-indulged. In each case where I tried this little ruse, there was total, utter silence.


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