EDITORIAL: Fear and mistrust in classrooms

LOUIS PIERARD
Secondary school teachers are demanding more resources to deal with classroom violence before there is a flight from the profession. Meanwhile their primary counterparts are coming to terms with the effects of union guidelines that managed to achieve just that.
At its conference in Wellington, the secondary schoolteachers' union, the PPTA, spoke out about youths who threatened teachers with knives and who told them "they would be raped".
There is a risk of assuming such horror stories are commonplace. The vast majority of secondary schools have sensible policies in place and competently manage delinquent students to ensure teachers are not exposed to risk.
Nevertheless, it is evident some who teach in low-decile schools are subject to appalling behaviour.
One south Auckland teacher had worked at schools "where gang member pupils kill each other in the weekends".
Schools at most decile levels are having to be surrogate parents, social workers or even psychiatric nurses. As more is demanded of them, the fundamental requirement - to teach - risks being pushed into the back seat. There is a good case to argue on behalf of some in the profession that their sense of vocation is being exploited.
If schools are expected to set and maintain standards, they should have the right to determine what they consider is intolerable.
The call by the head of the principals' association, Graham Young, that violent pupils should be removed from schools and educated elsewhere, is a sensible response to the growing belief by the state that schools are a branch of the welfare system. They are not and they must never be. Welfare demands no standards, makes no judgments of those it benefits and expects no consequences.
Unless schools are given the authority principals seek, nothing is likely to change.

Who will want the job when teachers are treated with contempt, not only by violent, insolent pupils but by their own ministry?
Primary schools today reap what they have sown with NZEI guidelines on "adult-child touching" introduced in the 1990s.
The rules were intended to ensure not the safety of children but that of teachers; a response that would protect primary and pre-school staff from the finger-pointing that followed the Christchurch Creche scandal.
Terror of paedophiles is never very far beneath the surface. As if to over-compensate for its toleration of other crimes, society's condemnation of child sex abuse is swift, vengeful and all-consuming. Every male is seen as a potential child molester.
It is reassuring, then, that the NZEI's guidelines on physical contact have been amended for teachers to use "common sense".
However, while it is in the nature of unions to be highly prescriptive, it seems an extraordinary - and desperately sad - capitulation of common sense to have to insert the detail that cuddling distressed children or changing nappies is acceptable "when carried out in a professional and responsible manner that is age-appropriate".
What have we become? The law of unforseen consequences of the 1990s guidelines has been to introduce fear and suspicion where it did not exist before; to perpetuate mistrust and lack of confidence and to inflict adult anxieties on children. Is it any wonder, then, that early education is becoming a male-free zone?

- Hawkes Bay Today

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