What is it like to teach (the US equivalent of) middle school in urban Britain? In short, the answer is not pretty – though it’s often hysterical.
A while back, I reviewed a book about what it’s like to be a cop in a poor, urban area of Britain. Mr Chalk deals with the same people at school.
Mr Chalk (a pseudonym) is a substitute teacher at a poor school in a city in Britain. His writing is wonderful, but his job sounds horrible. Many of his students live in public housing near the school. Any of them that have decent parents attend other schools. In other words, Mr Chalk teaches underclass kids:
It seems to me that, a few toffs apart, and allowing for exceptions, there are two broad classes in Britain now: middle class, which is everyone who works, and underclass, which is everyone who doesn’t.
The underclass survives on benefits and the proceeds of crime.
A typical class period lasts an hour and at least 45 minutes of the hour are spent trying to get the kids (he cannot bring himself to say "students" as the word implies that something is actually being "studied") to settle down. The remaining 15 minutes are spent teaching, which generally involves the students copying things directly from the board or a book – at least when they can find a pen or pencil. Anything beyond copying is too complicated for some of the class.
The book is fascinating to read, especially since I know many people think that modern schools are designed to teach children how to be obedient. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Mr Chalk’s writing is that the children in his school are unimaginably disobedient. Rules, in their corner of society, effectively don’t exist (those that do are certainly not enforced). It’s one thing to criticize obedience, if you’re dealing with a law-abiding, intelligent, orderly collection of individuals. However, if you’re dealing with the sorts of children that Mr Chalk is dealing with, – i.e. children who will use every opportunity to create trouble – a little obedience would go a long way. In fact, most of these children will end up in public housing because they lack any sort of obedience at all. They therefore cannot hold a job, finish an exam, show up on time, interact in a polite manner with a stranger, or behave properly in any moderately formal setting. Disobedience extends even to the most basic of common courtesies that make living with other people tolerable.
To the extent that the school actually has some rules and a teacher wants to enforce the rules, the teacher will find no support. It’s easier for everyone if the problems – including physical abuse of teachers – are swept under the rug. (I lost count of the number of times Mr Chalk was told to "fuck off"). Perhaps the worst part is that the result destroys the slim chances that a few of the children have to make something of themselves. The whole system seems geared to the students who cause the most trouble.
Political correctness takes precedence over learning. For example, the science book:
like all modern textbooks, is a masterpiece of political correctness. It is chock-full of bright pictures of children from ethnic minority backgrounds doing science experiments and photographs of every kind of phenomena. Even the teachers are in wheelchairs. Any wrongdoing is illustrated by a white boy; here is one, foolishly sticking his fork into an electrical socket and being electrocuted. Here’s another, drinking from a test tube.
What I cannot find, to my mounting horror as I flip through the book, are any questions.
On the children:
Ah! Self-control. Many of our kids have virtually none. They respond to stimuli as a plant does, without any conscious thought. They react instinctively, by shouting or striking out at the source of an irritation. It’s important to realise that these are reflex actions; there is no malice involved.
Mr Chalk also discusses the number of children who are medicated. Most have nothing wrong with them. My favorite was a kid who was diagnosed as "school-phobic." For this "medical" reason he was allowed to skip certain classes. The teachers are just as bad. Mr Chalk seems to work full time because so many teachers are out with "the stress."
Perhaps the funniest part of the book is when Mr Chalk recounts communications with the children’s parents. For example:
My personal all-time favourite was a written note we received from a woman who had skived off work herself and taken her brat out of school to go shopping. It the process, while out and about, gormlessly admiring cheap, gaudy tat in shop windows, she had been nabbed (amazingly) by a Police Truancy Patrol. Her explanation read (verbatim): ‘I had to teke Wayne shopping four his new shoose. Please don’t tell my work of this becose I coud not tell them ether.’
Actually this woman’s spelling is quite good compared to many of the other examples.
Like most teachers that I have met Mr Chalk is a believer in HBD (sometimes it takes a couple drinks to get a teacher to admit this). He believes that certain kids are not teachable. Their presence in school serves only to make the other kids dumber:
Thirty years ago, the majority of kids in our school were obedient, respectful and hard-working . . .
Result: 30 years ago, Anthony would have been expecting As and Bs in eight O levels, planning his A levels and thinking about Uni[versity]. The world, for a lad with his brains, would have been at his feet.
Instead, he’s in a police cell and my prediction for him from here on in involves drugs, crime and a sticky end.
Still, at least he has all the rights to self-expression he could ever wish for.
Progress, you say?