On Teaching and Discipline

I will repeat this a lot: – teaching is all about relationship. Without a nourishing relationship based on mutual respect between students and teachers you cannot achieve good learning whatever system you deploy. Learning stems from relationship. Relationship develops from attitude and personality. A teacher has to give and share of themselves. They have to care. It is the hardest and most worthwhile job in the world. Without care and compassion the classroom is a prison for both teacher and students.


Nothing can work unless it is based on a clear philosophy that is understood by all concerned and agreed by the majority.


Within every institution there will be a number of dissenters who do not agree with the stated philosophy. These dissenters need to be won over, disarmed or dismissed.

There are some bullying teachers who seek to run their classroom with a rod of iron, shouting in students’ faces and intimidating everyone. They firmly believe this is how it should be done. They see themselves as the strong authority figure. What they say goes. According to them if kids did as they were told there wouldn’t be any problems.

What they don’t seem to realise that if everyone behaved like they do the school would be unbearable. I was brought up in a school like that. It bred belligerence, rebellion and anger.

Students would store up their pent up frustration and fear and take it out on everyone else in a hierarchy of displacement behaviour.

When I first arrived at the Grammar School in 1975 there were fights most break-times and a cold, macho atmosphere. Bullying was rampant. This is the result of too much classroom intimidation and too rigid systems.

The bullying teachers thought themselves strong. They controlled their classroom. There was no dissent. It ran like clockwork. Many of the students admired the control exerted and respected the order. One thing students do not like is a teacher who does not control a class. A class has to be controlled. That is fundamental. My point is entirely based on how this is done. Bullying should not be an option.

The bullying teachers openly spoke disparagingly of other teachers and undermined them whenever possible.

For the teachers in the wake of these classroom bully teachers life was hard. They would receive a class all pent up and frustrated. The resultant disorderly lessons were merely viewed as evidence that everyone should be adopting a forceful approach. Their view was ‘Students needed to know, in no uncertain terms, who was the boss’.

I experienced my share of classroom bullying when I was at school and I know how it made me feel. Back then I simmered with anger, fury and resentment. The fact that, as a small boy, I was impotent to answer back or stand up to the teacher bullies made it worse. I resented them and hated them with a vengeance. I used every means to undermine, disrupt and oppose. I adopted sullen and open disdain. There was nothing I enjoyed more that standing there looking those teachers straight in the eye, replying ‘Yes Sir’ in a slurred, sneer of disrespect that would send them incandescent with impotence. I took immense pleasure from making them apoplectic through a display of controlled defiance while doing nothing overtly wrong. It was all about attitude. No amount of intimidation or punishment was effective with me. The pleasure I gained from getting through to them was ample compensation for any punishment they dished out. This hatred even went as far as puncturing tyres with a penknife and scraping car bodywork I am ashamed to say.

Indeed my hatred for those ‘little Hitlers’ was so great that if one of those three evil bastards from my childhood classrooms were to walk into a room, unlikely I know, as they must be all long dead by now, I would have great trouble controlling my fury. Just thinking about them raises my blood pressure. To this very day if I was asked to put a list of the worlds most evil people it would, of course, include such beasts as Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, and Vlad the Impaler, but it would also include those three teachers.

It seems incredible to me that they should still engender such bitter hatred fifty years on. But I still hate them with a passion. These were people who were supposed to be my role models, my carers, my teachers. Instead they were terrorisers and arrogant abusers of children. All three of them were traumatised ex-soldiers who thought children were lesser beings to be abused at will. All three of them deserved lengthy prison sentences for systematic child abuse.

It made my blood boil when I heard the government talking about bringing ex-soldiers back into the classroom to restore discipline. Yes, that’s just what we need – a good dose of bullying intimidation. Let’s bring back the cane while we’re at it, and don’t stop there, we can go the whole hog and run a series of approved schools and compulsory conscription. Put the miscreants in stocks and get the whole school to throw rotten fruit at them. That’d bring them back into line.

In my experience classes and individuals have a psychological snapping point. They stand up to the classroom teacher tyrant and take them on. The students challenge the teacher’s power and their perceived right to intimidate. Sometimes this is down out of sheer fury. Sometimes it is a realisation that the bullying teacher is operating on sheer bluff – there is a limit to their power. If a student refuses to be intimidated they are powerless.

I have seen deputy heads in nose to nose confrontations, incensed with fury but having to back down. I have seen classes openly defiant and sneeringly disdainful to the point of complete chaos in the face of extreme threats from a castrated teacher. They become uncontrollable. I have seen individuals caned and leave the room arrogantly laughing and basking in the glory from their fellow students.

There is a limit to the power of intimidation.

There is no limit to the power of love.

The only thing I learnt from my childhood experiences with the education system in which bullying and violence were embedded; boring, repetitive memory retention and endless copying were the methodology, and cold strict discipline and heartless control was the order of the day, was that there had to be a better way.

I was going to prove there was a better way!

It seemed to me that the system was obsessed with control and the destruction of the individual. We were crammed into a routine and made into faceless robots.

As a child I had refused to be a cog in such a vicious, heartless machine.

I had refused to be a clone in a militaristic uniform.

I had refused to be broken by petty rules and systematic intimidation.

I rebelled.

Now my rebellion had made me a Headteacher! There’s irony in that!

I remember Patrick McGoohan bringing out a series called ‘The Prisoner’. I adored it. To this day I have a sticker on my desk that proudly and defiantly states: ‘I am not a number I am a free man.’

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