Teacher-pupil relationships (no, not that kind!) can be a vexed question. Our Comenius trip to Amsterdam last week started me pondering on this, as the interactions we saw in our partner Dutch school were pretty different to what is standard in the UK.
For a start, the kids call the teachers by their first names, and don’t wear uniform – already a harbinger of chaos and underachievement in the eyes of traditionalists! But it goes further – for example, it’s not unusual at all to see physical contact between teacher and pupil (the friendly variety – such as an arm round a shoulder or a “high five”), which is most definitely frowned on in the UK. Generally, the kids there don’t seem to exhibit any of the habitual wariness or caution that a teacher’s presence produces here – they treat the teacher much more like one of their mates.
What do I think of this? Not entirely sure. Sometimes I’d see their kids taking ages to quieten down when a teacher wanted to speak, or mucking around, or pushing and shoving in the corridors, and I’d be longing to give them a blast about their manners. Then I’d see the way that the kids and teacher seem to work together to achieve a common goal, which is a contrast to the norm in the UK, where kids usually see their work as something they are doing because the teacher makes them, or at best as something to please the teacher; the Dutch way seemed to encourage a much more mature and self-motivated approach. The older Dutch kids – 14/15 upwards – were also particularly impressive in their confidence, maturity, and readiness to engage with others. Their school is in quite a “difficult” area, but by the time the kids leave, they seem to be well-balanced young people ready to take their place in society. So I guess their system must work!
So why am I still unsure? I’ve no business judging, really – most of my colleagues probably think I’m way too informal myself, and I’d certainly advise any teacher starting out on their career to be a lot less relaxed than I am with the kids. I think where I’m unhappy is when things move away from artificial rules – eg how pupils dress – to ones that are more fundamental – eg consideration for others. But perhaps it’s not realistic to expect teenagers to be as considerate as adults? And if they become charming and responsible young people before they leave school, does it matter that much if they aren’t when they’re younger? Can’t answer that one, really.
One thing for sure – it’s a brilliant experience to visit other teachers and other schools in any case, even more if they’re in another country. It almost always makes you think about what you’re doing and gives you some good ideas. Even if it just makes you grateful you work where you do, with your own kids and colleagues, that’s no bad thing!