The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The behaviourally 'challenging' sixteen year olds whom I teach once a fortnight, for forty minutes, who spend the rest of their time on a 'vocational' building course .... have finally been developing a working relationship with me. It relies on my agreeing not to be shocked by them, and their agreeing to cool it, and settle down to some work at some point.

Today, James returned from eight weeks' absence, therefore had social codes to satisfy before he could begin to apply himself to the demands of my classroom. He established himself by proudly showing around the pornographic snuff movie clips he'd downloaded onto his mobile phone.

Playing my part in the behavioural trade-off that prevents the boys from sucking the air out of the room and succeeding in creating a major conflict, I swallowed the absolute stomach lurching sickening shock I truly felt when he waved the phone images of degradation and torture in my face; the other lads crowded round him to see if they were 'really cutting it open', etc. I excused myself from the room a second, and made as if to collect some paper from next door.

Returning, I stood further away from James' toy, and quietly asked him to try not to distract people. Busied myself in an effort not to give the obviously provoked response, walked around the room offering stationery and help, avoiding James' miniature display and objecting quietly if I could hear the tinny sound of mp3 screams.

The lads slowly settled, did all the work they'd been set, expressed pride in what they'd achieved, demanded ticks, sweetie prizes, public praise. Asked spellings, and tried to meet the expectations of the task, for once.

I kept to the unspoken behavioural contract that has enabled us to co-exist, to begin to work together, to open the path to learning, and it paid off.
So why do I feel so sick that I felt unable to challenge what was happening?