And perhaps it’s needed. After all, there are numerous research findings that show teachers suffer some of the highest levels of mental stress across all professions.
A report last year by Dr Philip Riley suggested that school principals are seven times more likely to be physically assaulted at work compared to the general population. So I get it – inspirational one-liners have a place.
But what happens when the advice is not just wrong, but potentially harmful?
A month or so ago I came across such a piece of advice. It stated: “A teacher’s best defense (sic) against behavior (sic) problems is an engaging lesson.”
You’ll gather from the spelling that this was from a US educator. In fact it was tweeted out by @Educationweek, a US education newspaper with over half a million followers on Twitter.
I’ve encountered this argument numerous times and it’s a concern because in a great many cases, it is patently not true. Furthermore it implies that if a teacher is experiencing behaviour issues in their class, it is their fault. You just need to plan better lessons, see?
Leaving aside the fact that it fails to recognise the multitude of factors at play in any one classroom related to the learning, emotional or wellbeing needs that present in students, I have three particular issues with this position.
In some schools there are significant social issues. If students are setting fire to bins, threatening violence against each other or the staff and possess a general disregard for school, you need more constructive advice than, “Hey, maybe your lessons need to be more engaging. Have you thought about using iPads?”
More than advice, teachers require support. Whether that’s by enhancing collegiality in the staffroom, or a consistent approach with regard to behavioural expectations across the school, teachers need to know that they won’t be judged as a ‘bad’ teacher if kids muck up.
It shifts responsibility for student behaviour away from the student. To be honest most behaviour management approaches do this. Through a series of punishments or rewards students decide if it’s worth behaving today.
Rather, we need to have a culture of behavioural expectations. Social Learning Theory has a fair bit to offer here, and I’ll chat more about that next month.
In short, I think the ‘engaging lesson’ advice – particularly when it’s aimed at our newest recruits, who are least equipped to deal with it – does our profession a disservice.