I was reflecting recently that, in education, the client is not always right. When parents and stakeholders demand certain things of an education system, they are often at cross-purposes. For example, stakeholders such as businesses might inadvertently (or not-so-inadvertently) demand students that are overtrained and will be underpaid. Parents, of course, want their children to have the best opportunities with the least pain. They can’t all be right.
Schools and teachers tend to be caught in the middle. As the focus of the education ‘game’, they are targets for all snipers. There will always be sizeable chunks of the population willing to editorialize on the system without direct experience of attempting to fulfil its goals themselves.
In my 20 years of teaching experience, I have never let a student get away without thinking seriously about how to educate that person, and at least trying some well-considered intervention. Educators aren’t always right either, but our duty is to try to do what is right according to our professional instincts, training, knowledge and skills. If I believe I am likely to be right, I am not ashamed or unwilling to suggest bluntly that the client might be wrong.
I have never tolerated bad behaviour from students beyond mild and transient teenage excitability. Anyone who allows more is generally wrong. Bad behaviour is particularly dangerous in my chosen domain – the chemistry lab. But it doesn’t mean that a bad behaviour stems from malice or recklessness; sometimes it is incidental or accidental, and it can form the basis for a different type of education – the attempt to mould character by intelligent response.
That’s why I won’t tolerate eating in my classroom unless the students have genuinely had no time to eat when they should have been given that time. I won’t tolerate messiness and littering either, unless it’s going to be part of my lesson. And that lesson is normally to learn how to turn a weakness into a strength. It is what all education clients are looking for, after all.