Teachers should just teach – they don’t need to become child psychologists too

Published by The Telegraph on 22/02/17


We’ve all been there. Red faced, sweaty palms, lips quivering. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. The tantrum: a crucial part of every school’s break time.

Yes, when teachers aren’t extracting chewing gum from underneath desks, they’re usually doing their best to quell an eruption of emotion spouting from an unhappy pupil. Sometimes they’ll attempt to console, possibly by whipping out a hidden chocolate bar. If Mr A is in a bad mood, you might even be told to get your act together.

Not so any more. Now, teachers have been instructed to assume that tantrums and anxious behaviour are possible signs of child abuse. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), people working in schools should keep an eye out for signs of neglect and violence in their pupils’ homes.

Where once the role of teachers was to, well, teach, our country’s educators are being turned into state busybodies with the primary role of spying on families.  In addition to deciding whether Little Johnny has a sufficient grasp of long multiplication, now Mr X will have to determine whether LJ’s tantrum after he didn’t get enough fish fingers on Friday is also a signal that his parents treat him like crap. We all assume that teachers know everything, but even Sherlock would struggle with that one.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that teachers have been called upon to excessively monitor their students. Under the Channel Program, which is an offshoot of the government’s Prevent Strategy, our educators are encouraged to highlight students who have extreme views. As figures obtained under a Freedom of Information Act revealed, in the space of just six months last year, 2,311 children were reported to Channel. 352 of them aged nine and under.

But the role of a teacher shouldn’t be to act as a social worker or anti-extremist informant. And these continual attempts to dilute education to the extent that it becomes a hotbed for paranoia can only be to a school’s detriment. How can a teacher hope to teach a class about algebra or the Battle of Hastings if they also have to work out whether their pupils have been abused and/or are planning on taking a gap year in the Islamic State?

Fortunately, a brief glance at the symptoms recommended to teachers by Nice shows that its initiative would be impossible to implement. It advises teachers particularly look out for children who are over-friendly, seek attention or wet themselves. Given its listed qualities account for over half of the pupils in every school in the country, today’s school faculties have their work cut for them.

Nice also seem to recognise their proposals may be a bit far-fetched. Gillian Leng, its deputy chief executive, admitted: “Not all cases will cause concern”. Dr Danya Glaser, a member of the Nice guideline development committee, confessed: ‘It might be nothing but it might be something.’

But what Dr Glaser forgets is that while “it might be nothing”, Nice’s insistence on creating a climate of fear within schools could create “something”. If children are told by untrained professionals that they are abused, it inculcates a sentiment that encourages them to feel like their being abused. ChildLine has claimed that it organised 11,706 counselling sessions for anxiety over the past year, a rise of 35 per cent from the previous year. By fetishising the notion of child abuse, we can only expect this figure to increase.

Ultimately, anxiety, the root of infantile tantrums, is part of the normal human experience. Not only can it be a good motivator, but adult life would break down if we medicalised every instance where we felt uncomfortable. And if we are too quick to encourage students to play up to an ungrounded notion of victimhood, can we really be so surprised when they go to universities and try to insulate themselves within a so-called “snowflake” bubble.

It would be insensitive to say that teachers should turn a blind eye to their students’ well-being. If a pupil displays signs of physical injury or genuine neglect, then it is well within a teacher’s remit to ask questions. But institutionalising this role with such a vague list of criteria takes student-snooping to questionable lengths.

More often than not, tantrums are just tantrums. We don’t need teachers to become child psychologists. How about we just leave them to teach instead?

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