In a discussion of behavior, it doesn’t take long for someone who should know better to say that the key to good behavior is good relationships. It is true that a bad relationship could undermine you with a class. It is true that sometimes a good relationship with some of the dominant personalities really has a positive effect on a class. It is true that it is better to have good relationships with your students than bad ones. However, we should not confuse cause and effect. It is much easier to have a good relationship with a well-behaved class. It is easy to convince yourself that the good behavior you get from a class is due to the class liking you, but it is far more likely that the class will like you if your lessons are safe and orderly and you don’t have to keep betraying them. In my experience, when you visit schools with strict and effective behavior management, you see really good relationships between employees and students. This is because relationships thrive where employees and students are happy and thrive. This is best done where there are limits and the students are safe. The opposite of this is the school, in which good behavior occurs mainly when the pupils have been “convinced”. where strangers and new employees can be treated with contempt and where life is hell for the teacher who is not liked.
Most teachers with the strongest relationships with students earned them in the right way: through discipline and commitment to the well-being of their students. In an environment where attracting students is a prerequisite for the absence of abuse and defiance, there will be some adults who have prioritized these relationships by setting the right expectations. In difficult schools, I came across teachers who have “good relationships” and deserve them by never confronting a student. I have watched lessons where the teacher has had the friendliest and most respectful conversations with even the most difficult students, but never said a word when the students exposed each other to abuse and harassment. Appeasement is a key strategy to survive in a school where behavior is based on relationships. rather than relationships that are allowed to develop due to good behavior. Because relationships are a one-way street and students can choose who they like, schools where good behavior depends on relationships shift power to those who want it. These students can make it clear to teachers: “If you want a simple life, don’t bother me.” At best, this only means lowering academic standards, but often it means turning away adult authority from the classroom. While this may be a strengthening for the ringleaders, most children remain unprotected from the crowd because the employees fear the bullies among the children as much as their peers.
Another aspect of schools where only good relationships lead to good behavior is the impact on new employees. It usually takes a long time to establish yourself. These schools are not a good place to start teaching, and even experienced teachers are treated poorly when they change schools. Students have an idea of who to obey and who not to obey. Supply teachers are driven out; New employees will often go down and the classes will boast of the teachers who have brought them to tears. Worse, students will learn to coordinate their disorder. New employees are the obvious target, but sometimes a certain part of the curriculum is known as the one that bothers. Sometimes employees are geared towards their gender, sexuality or ethnicity. There are schools where good behavior depends on good relationships, but you will almost certainly not have a good relationship if you teach French. if you speak with an accent or happen to follow the wrong religion.
Finally, let’s accept that all teachers are different. Some are more introverted than others. Some like soccer and rough jokes; others like opera and subtle jokes. Not everyone likes small talk. The culture of having to win over students makes teachers superficial people who are more interested in playing in front of the crowd than conveying something profound. Halfway between a politician and a game show host, the teacher with the most successful personality can “succeed” despite a lack of expertise and a poor ability to convey knowledge. You may even have the demagogue’s tricks: knowing how to manipulate individuals and how to lead a mob. Any teacher who is introverted; any teacher who is in the autistic spectrum; Any teacher who cares more about their subject than being liked is not welcome in the school, where good behavior depends on relationships. And it’s worse for the underdogs among the students. Expectations between classrooms vary quickly as the boundaries shift depending on the relationship. There is no chance of learning good habits and following routines. Each lesson is about controlling the social relationships between the teacher and the class. Instead of learning the useful ability to work with people you dislike, instead, students are encouraged to learn only where the class has tacitly decided that the teacher is “fun” enough for them. You don’t want to be an autistic child in a school where the only rule is: “Don’t go on the wrong side of the crowd”. Ironically, SEND students are often used as an excuse to justify the blurred boundaries and relationships that lead to discipline first. You don’t have to be a teacher for five minutes to see how many times these children have failed most in these schools.
Behavior is not about relationships. Good relationships with your students are worth it, whether they help behavior or not. However, good relationships are no substitute for an orderly and safe environment in which every teacher and student can thrive.
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