School Days Sophia Waugh

The Oldie - - NEWS -

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.

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