In 2011 footballer Xabi Alonso gave an interview to the Guardian on his experiences as a young player moving from Spain to Liverpool. He describes the most significant difference here.
“I don’t think tackling is a quality,” he says. “It is a recurso, something you have to resort to, not a characteristic of your game. At Liverpool I used to read the matchday programme and you’d read an interview with a lad from the youth team. They’d ask: age, heroes, strong points, etc. He’d reply: ‘Shooting and tackling’. I can’t get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality, something to learn, to teach, a characteristic of your play.”
You don’t have to follow football to understand his point. Tackling, aggressively taking the ball from an opposition player, shouldn’t be necessary if a team is set up right. Coaches shouldn’t coach it and young players shouldn’t work on developing it because it stops them getting better at things that really matter.
Classroom management is to teaching what tackling is to football and becoming preoccupied with it inhibits the development of good teaching.
How can bad behaviour be a teacher’s fault?
I haven’t always felt this way. Ten years ago I was trained to believe that the poor behaviour of children was a result of bad teaching and that if behaviour in my lessons was good, then my teaching must be good too. As a result, I prioritised good classroom management and came to view it as a source of professional pride. Shamefully, I even took quiet pleasure in hearing about the struggles of other teachers because I really believed that less disruption in my room meant I was better at my job. This was as wrong-headed as it was mean-spirited and it hindered my own development as well as making me obnoxious to be around.
Holding teachers responsible for behaviour creates the assumption that being naughty can be excused if teaching isn’t effective. This problem is compounded by the wildly varying opinions of different children as to what constitutes a good lesson. Most children, especially those prone to behaving badly, are able to tell when they aren’t learning but poor at working out why. Should we really dramatically change our approach in response to these often flawed views? Of course, bad teaching exists and, of course, behaviour is more likely to be poor if lessons are poor, but this should be dealt with by the adults responsible for the curriculum area and not by lynch law in the classroom.
Why should teachers change if children are rude to them?
Asking a teacher to change as a response to bad behaviour is illogical because they aren’t the ones with the problem. Early in my career I was asked, “Ben, Taylor never swears at other teachers. What do you think you did that made him tell you to f**k off?” A decade ago this was seen as a quite reasonable question. The idea my teaching could cause a child to swear at me, as if I were in possession of an unfortunate superpower triggering Tourette’s in otherwise unaffected children, is ridiculous. The way to get children behaving better is to have and maintain robust systems that hold them accountable for their own behaviour, not to imply that their teachers are responsible for it. We should respect the ability of our children to make the decisions that govern their behaviour.
Capitulating to bad behaviour damages learning
Expecting teachers to change their practice as a result of bad behaviour is a mistake because strategies designed to improve classroom management are often opposite to those that promote learning. As a younger teacher I wasted far too much time planning card sorts, role-plays, cut-and-stick, and poster work designed to ensure children behaved well in my lessons. I genuinely believed that if the children were busy, behaving well and having fun, they were learning. On the rare occasions I tried to make students write essays they invariably behaved awfully. When I sought support I was told this was because the work I was asking them to do was boring. It probably was, but at least it was proper work and I’m now sure they’d have learned more if I’d been confident enouh to force them. A colleague of mine remembers an incident at a previous school when he had loads of problems with one disruptive child in his class. He was advised to observe a particular lesson which she liked. The first thing he noticed when he walked in was the girl platting her teacher’s hair. Both teacher and student were, of course, having a nice time and the girl in question was behaving well.
Children may indeed behave better if we allow them to do things they want to, but if these things don’t help them learn we are do them a disservice by permitting them.
We should do what we are trained to do.
We shouldn’t regard classroom management as a priority is because we aren’t properly trained in it. My qualifications to teach history are GCSEs, ‘A’ Levels, a degree in history and a PGCE. I assume this is because my job is to teach children history, not how to behave better. I assume my salary, paid by taxpayers, is for this. Of course, not all children in all schools will be good all the time but it should not be seen as a major part of a teacher’s role to improve behaviour. Strong school rules, routines and system, in conjunction with close links with parents, should do this. Teachers should be able to count on good behaviour and plan activities with this understanding. By so doing we will get better at things that actually accelerate learning and not at entertaining naughty children.
I’ll carry on teaching history. If students don’t behave in my lessons I’ll respect their ability to make decisions and they’ll be punished. I’ll refer children who genuinely aren’t able to make rational choices to professionals better qualified than me but I won’t be accepting any excuses and I won’t be changing my approach.
Xabi’s last words.
I’ll let Xabi have the last word. Substitute ‘football development’ for ‘teaching’, ‘tackling’ for ‘behaviour management’ and ‘practice’ for ‘play’ and I think he’s pretty much nailed it.
‘I can’t get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality, something to learn, to teach, a characteristic of your play.”