The ‘Old Skool’ Way Of Dealing With Students Is Over.

I hated school. Scratch that.

I really, really hated school. And let me tell you a little secret:

Part of me still hates it. And I’m a teacher now. You see, schooling hasn’t really changed much since the 80s & our kids are paying for it now.

Now before you guys judge me and chase me down the road with your pitch forks, let me gave you a bit of background:

I was raised in a place called Barking, the love child of the gritty mean streets of East London and the roguish charm of Essex – think Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels with a dash of Only Fools and Horses and you get the idea.

Apart from being (allegedly) the site of the UK’s first psychiatric institution (hence the term ‘Barking Mad’), Barking was known for being a town of hustlers. The town was set-up as roman trading outpost because of it’s proximity to the River Thames around 55BCE & it has that in it’s DNA ever since.

I grew up surrounded by wide boys, drug dealers, hustlers, market traders and chancers and you had to think fast to navigate the tricky street politics – the town kept you on your toes. The lessons I learnt from my East London town were visceral and urgent – and have never left me since.

But that’s not the Education that my parents wanted me learn. Concerned about me being corrupted by ‘the streets,’ my mother sent me away to a fancy independent school in a nearby town just after I started Secondary. This is where my hatred for Education really harden.

School was incredibly boring. Compared to vibrant primary school that encouraged us to wonder, explore and question, I was confronted with grey uniform, school crests and complex trigonometry. We sat in rows looking at overhead projectors beaming subjects that looked more Klingon than human.

Being the suave charming student that I was, I became disruptive, often trying to get my self ejected from the class as quickly as humanly possible. I constantly tried to break my own records like 2012 Usain Bolt in being freed from talking about which of Henry VIII’s wives were beheaded & divorced.

I honestly felt that school did not understand me nor wanted to get to know what made me tick. The teachers’, who were often from a very different background to me, looked down condescendingly at the way that I spoke & the way that I looked at the world.

As a black child, this was even more acute. In my school, there were not many black kids so we naturally ended up banding together because we felt a sense of belonging. But we were called a ‘gang’ & treated as one – being harassed & under constant suspicion, despite doing nothing wrong.

Anytime that I questioned things, I was told to be quiet. My frustrations and confusion was taken as aggression which lead me becoming more disillusioned and unwilling to engage with the staff. My complaints were seen as trivial while others were seen as important. I didn’t feel like I belonged & I had this chip on my shoulder well into my university years.

After the many twists and turns of my life I found myself on the path to becoming a teacher. Vowing to be the teacher I never had to the kids in my care, especially from the inner city and those who were minorities. With a mix of ignorance and naivety, I entered the classroom thinking that things had changed. Sadly, it hasn’t. Not by much.

With COVID19 ravaging the world and George Floyd’s murder prompting the biggest civil rights demonstrations in the mankind’s history via #BlackLivesMatter, this current crisis has laid bare the myths of meritocracy and fairness along class and racial lines.

In the UK, with the growing inequality between ‘the haves’ & ‘the have-nots,’ the system is broken – and our kids know it. The ‘go-to-school’, get a degree, get a well-paying job & buy a house narrative has been proven an unattainable dream for those that do not have the cultural capital and social connections leaving he unfortunate in debt and deeper confusion.

With young people’s (and adults) mental health being pushed to the brink in the COVID19 fallout and racial disharmony at an all-time high in the Western Hemisphere, we have to move from the didactic, authoritarian ways of delivering content to a more learner-lead ‘trust based approach.’

My experiences of how disconnected I felt informed my teaching practice and was one of the main driving forces for me to write “The Action Hero Teacher: Classroom Management Made Simple” and found Education needs radical reform.

This is a perfect opportunity. We need to rip the cover off the Education system and look at it’s broken parts. We can with enough guts, creativity & patience, create an Education that is fit for the 21st Century that truly promote the ideals of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and create a crop of young people armed and ready to overcome the vast challenges that face humankind in the 21st Century.

About our Guest Blogger:

Karl Pupé is a qualified classroom teacher with a decade’s experience across the Primary, Secondary and Further Education sectors. Specialising in Behaviour Management, he worked as a Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) Coordinator teaching students with severe Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties. He is the also the author of “The Action Hero Teacher: Classroom Management Made Simple” and founder of The ‘Action Hero Teacher Blog’ was ranked by the influential PR and marketing software company Vuelio as one of the ‘The Top 10 Education blogs’ in the United Kingdom in September 2020.