Teaching of Discipline Is as Important as the Discipline of Teaching

Article excerpt

Byline: JACK MCCONNELL

I BECAME a secondary school teacher in early 1983. Less than 20 years ago, it now seems like a lifetime away. Back then, it was unheard of for a pupil to stand up, shout, swear and say no to a teacher.

If a pupil did misbehave and a teacher took action, they almost always had the full support of parents.

But by 1992, when I left teaching, the landscape had changed.

Misbehaving pupils had become a regular occurrence and woe betide the teacher who attempted to take action. Parents were more likely to condemn teachers for attempting to do so.

In those nine short years, the culture in which teachers taught changed dramatically. I witnessed a huge decline in the respect held for teachers, both by pupils and by the wider community.

From those positive early days, teachers suddenly faced an outbreak of petty indiscipline, sneering and general reluctance on the behalf of pupils to co-operate.

This change reflected a more general shift in cultural attitudes among young people, adults and society at large.

Respect for adults and parents declined in society and, thanks in part to images in the media and to other forces, we saw pressures placed on society which led to the breakdown of family and community structures. The general social fabric changed dramatically during those times and left us in a much changed world.

Today, the rights of the complainant are often pushed to the forefront ahead of our responsibilities to fellow human beings.

It is a cultural change that moved on during the 1990s - and was epitomised for me in the experience of a daughter of a friend of mine, bullied so badly at school by poorly-disciplined and out-of-control classmates that she was forced to stay out of school for a considerable length of time.

Ensuring good school discipline is a top priority for me. As a teacher, I saw discipline problems at first hand. As a parent, I have been concerned about the effect of poor discipline on learning and teaching. And, as a Minister, I am aware of concerns right across Scotland.

As Minister for Education, I have an opportunity to bring about another cultural change.

Trying to go back to those days in the early 1980s would be, unfortunately, fruitless.

Today, we have to find modern solutions for what are modern problems - and to restore the respect for teachers and improve the quality of education for our youngsters.

We have to act and act now to improve behaviour in our schools, to create an environment in which children can learn and develop their full potential.

To allow teachers to teach and give children the high-quality education they deserve.

The majority of hardworking children, parents and teachers demand and deserve no less.

Last week, I launched the first stage of a campaign to raise the standing of the teaching profession and encourage the country's brightest talent to consider teaching.

But I want to ensure that future teaching careers are part of a crusade for greater achievement, not a battle for classroom discipline.

This indiscipline can take many forms. …