Incompetent Teachers and Antisocial Pupils: Are We Breeding a Nation of Delinquents?by Jan Andersen on 12/13/12
How would you react if you thought that your child's teacher marked their work with little regard for grammatical accuracy, punctuation, spelling or sentence formation? Even worse, what would you do if you thought that the teacher actually removed pages from your child's book because they couldn't be bothered to mark the work? Would you be concerned if you thought that some of the teachers at your child's school allowed the pupils to behave in a disruptive manner, throwing furniture around and being abusive, whilst they took no action to restore order?
It's hard to believe isn't it? But it happens.
Many years ago, my partner hurried through the door from work one evening as though on an urgent mission and waved an A4 sheet of paper in my face.
"You won't believe this," he said, "James* brought this in this morning. It's his 14-year-old son's history homework. Have a read of it and tell me what you think."
The typewritten piece was headed, "The Murder of Thomas Becket" and was probably the best part of the entire piece. The font used was Arial size 16, so it was not necessary for a great deal to be written in order to fill the page.
The 250 word essay was full of glaring grammatical errors, too numerous to mention. There were full stops in the middle of sentences and none at the ends. Likewise with commas, which appeared to have been used in place of full stops. Nevertheless, very few of these errors had been corrected by the teacher despite the fact that, as it stood, much of the composition did not make sense.
The third "sentence" began, "But after six f***ing years Thomas Becket came back..."
Now, when I was at school, language like that, particularly in written homework, would have resulted in a trip to the headmaster's office, if not temporary suspension from school. However, this lad's teacher had simply circled the "f" word and written, "See me" in the margin. This boy is dead meat, I thought.
When I reached the end of this painful piece of illiterate twaddle, I felt acutely embarrassed for the boy. Was the work even worthy of a mark and what criticism was the teacher going to make?
My partner laughed at me as he watched my reaction. My jaw dropped open in synchrony with extreme widening of my eyes, to form a fixed expression of astonishment.
The work had been awarded an A2, the top possible mark being A1. On the opposite side of the page to the circled mark, the teacher had written the following comments:
"Good effort Edward* (despite the swear word!) You have got most of the facts right. Some grammatical errors to check over though."
The odd thing was that this teacher hadn't highlighted many of the grammatical errors. She'd penned in some quotation marks and given some nouns a capital letter, but it almost appeared as though she had skimmed through the piece at great speed, only picking up on the "f" word, which leapt out of the page and would have hit even the most indifferent and bored person in the face.
How is a child going to learn if you comment on errors that need to be looked at and then fail to highlight exactly what these are?
By the above standards, I imagine that in order to gain a B2, all a pupil would need to do need to do would be to write his or her name at the top of the paper and not necessarily correctly either.
You only need to look at the manner in which so many children speak these days, to question what they are actually being taught in school. It seems to have become acceptable to say, "you was" instead of "you were", "we done" instead of "we did" or "could/should/would of" instead of "could/should/would have" and makes me wonder whether the teachers bother to correct a child's English, since these youngsters almost certainly write in the same style that they speak.
I agree that education begins at home and yet when children spend a large percentage of their week in the school environment, surely it is a teacher's duty to try to encourage and maintain certain standards of spoken and written English amongst their pupils.
What on earth is happening to our education system? More importantly, on what basis are these so-called teachers being employed? Do they need to be able to speak English correctly themselves and is it necessary for them to be articulate? Or do they simply need to have the fundamental qualifications and the ability to work through a curriculum automaton-fashion?
If the pupils manage to grasp the concept, albeit loosely, of what is being taught, then that is possibly just a bonus.
Maybe this apathy is simply a sign of the times? How do you, for example, teach children who don't want to be taught? Is this a regional disease, or is it a national problem?
One ex-teacher to whom I spoke used to work at a local secondary school where, she says, most of the pupils were "no-hopers". She even admitted to having "ripped pages out of their exercise books when I couldn't be bothered to read their essays. They were so thick that most of them probably wouldn't even have remembered having completed an assignment, so it didn't really matter. It only worked until you reached the centre page though, after which it became a little more obvious when the pages in the front of the book began falling out!" She threw her head back and roared with laughter, whilst I was thinking how lucky my children were that she didn't teach at the school they attended.
I asked her why, if the pupils were no-hopers, did they even bother turning up for school? Wasn't there a high truancy rate? She explained that school was somewhere for many of them to go and behave in a disorderly manner because, she said, their parents didn't want them at home.
When I showed her the aforementioned piece of history homework, she said, "That's because schools are finding it hard to recruit teaching staff, so their standards have dropped and they are prepared to take on practically anybody who is willing to teach."
She went on to say that because the pupils were such imbeciles, the only way that she managed to get through the working day was to keep her head down and leave the pupils to their own devices; throwing chairs around, swearing and behaving like wild animals. She said that these days, if you so much as looked at one of these kids in a certain way, they would report you for abuse, so if you wanted to avoid harassment you simply had to accept that you were going to be treated like a punch bag.
This particular teacher, who was still only in her forties at the time, took early retirement as a result of stress-related ill health, precipitated by working at this school. She said that the only way that the other teachers at this school managed to cope was by taking a day or two off sick every week.
I decided to take a look at the Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) report for this school, which fell well below the national average for achievement, behaviour and attendance. It was recognised, however, that the children's "backgrounds, attainment on entry, parental apathy or other external factors were insurmountable stumbling blocks to raising achievement."
I believe that lack of discipline is a key problem area. If teachers allow themselves to be intimidated by troublemaking pupils, for fear of reprisal if they take positive action to reprimand the culprits, the situation can only continue to deteriorate. Does this also apply to homework too I wonder? Maybe the teacher who marked the piece of work highlighted at the beginning of this article felt she had to tailor her comments and marking level in order to avoid an act of vengeance.
I realise that this is not representative of all schools, but how long will it be I wonder, before this delinquency becomes a national disease? Even in the more affluent sectors and higher achieving schools, a large percentage of children could probably name all the entrants in the most recent series of X-Factor and achieve high scores on computer games, yet be unable to faultlessly recite their times' tables, or string more than two words together in an intelligible manner.
When my youngest daughter was at primary school, she frequently used to bring home notices and newsletters that were littered with typos and grammatical errors. Much to her horror, I used to mark these and return them to the school in her bag. However, she was not afraid to point our errors to the teachers herself - and often did so.
I am certain that there are many competent teachers in this country - and my daughter has the benefit of such teachers at her current secondary school - but there are also many parents who could no doubt do a better job of educating their children at home. With increasing numbers of pupils per class, lack of individual attention and declining standards, is it any wonder that more parents are choosing to opt out of the state education system in favour of teaching their children in the home environment?
*Names changed to protect identities