School Days Sophia Waugh
Something extraordinary has happened at school. A miracle has been caused by one tiny change in the school rules.
Behaviour at the end of the summer was taking a downward turn. The year sevens were all exhausted. They had been at their school for long enough to feel at home, but were still exhausted by the new expectations and relationships a change of school involves.
The year nines and tens were flexing their muscles before their move up the school; the year eights are an unruly mob at the best of times. Only the year elevens, cowed by the proximity to exams and the fear of leaving the place they’d been longing to escape, toed the line.
All schools constantly revisit their behaviour policies, and ours is no different. The cry for consistency in approach is endlessly reiterated – follow through on bad behaviour; reward good; don’t back down.
One suggestion that is endlessly made is to ban mobile telephones. The children shout about safety (I remain unconvinced that any potential kidnapper or rapist will pause long enough to give the victim time to call home for help) and, even more oddly, ‘their rights’.
The staff at my last school called unanimously for telephones to be banned, but senior management, in its infinite wisdom, ignored the plea.
This school is made of sterner stuff. Students were informed at the end of the summer term that any telephone seen would be instantly confiscated for the day. ‘See it, hear it, lose it’ was the motto, and how we rubbed our hands in glee.
Why is such an intrinsic part of all our lives viewed so negatively by teachers? How can the telephone be linked with behaviour? It’s simple.
Research shows the damage that over-screening can do to young brains. The disturbance to brain activity can threaten a child’s learning ability, change mood and cause behavioural problems. We would walk around in recess and at lunch and see gaggles of children not speaking to each other, focused on their telephones, occasionally showing some picture to each other. It is not just their intellect that is in danger; it is their ability to communicate verbally. A few more generations and our children will have reverted to the pre-language state of our earliest ancestors. They will grunt at each other and fight over Pringles, and that will be that.
Bang on as we do, we cannot stop these children from sending vile messages to or about each other, or posting pictures of themselves that should not be on public display. This leads to more hysteria and bad behaviour. God bless our senior management team for having the nerve to see this through: mobiles are banned.
As I prepare for lessons in the morning I hear children chatting, not grunting. Actual conversations – about families, social lives, sometimes even their work. They no longer storm into the classroom furious over a slight they received online. The extraordinary thing (to them) is how much faster it is to iron out a misconception face to face than by text. The glorious thing (for us) is how much more malleable and smiling they are.
With luck, this might even have an effect on exam results. Time will tell but, meanwhile, life is a lot easier.