Saturday, 24 August 2013

What is the magic word?

I have just returned from a relaxing holiday in Majorca. It was a great holiday and I feel thoroughly relaxed. But, as I was sat on the beach, my brain got thinking. I love to people watch on holiday, as I like to think that I am a failed actor, and that I watch what people do so I could possibly use it for a role I am playing. As I sat contemplating, I spotted ….

The family all wearing the same stripy t-shirt
The toddler covered up by paranoid parents that only his fingers were exposed to sunlight
The parents that sizzled half naked on a sunbed while a poor young child suffered the heat in a pram with a towel covering it
The peacock of a man that walked up and down the beach strutting his stuff, hoping that a female would throw herself at him - none did
The man that sucked in his stomach every time he left the water
The family with the unruly children who apologised for their behaviour but didn’t give sanctions to them
The lilo that was the equivalent of a small yacht that had space for four people
The young couple that exchanged cuddling for squeezing each other’s spots
The tough, hard as a nails, man with tattoos aplenty reading a book about a poor little kitten

So many people. So many stories. However, if I was an entrepreneur and wanted to find a gap in the market, I would consider this: six pack tattoos and by-the-beach-back-waxes. If there was an abundance of something on the beach, it was six packs and hairy backs - but not both at the same time. Admittedly, I am a little jealous of the six packs, but I think there could be a market there. It would mean that wimpy weaklings like me stand a chance of not sticking out like a sore thumb, as others parade their hard work.  

Anyway, one thing made me proud and cry at same time. If you don’t know it, one of my daughters has cerebral palsy, and going on holiday was a big step for us this year. Other families seem to swan off without a care in the world to other countries, but we had to contact airports, organised separate travel insurance, book a suitable hotel and sort out various things. Aside from all that, we had a brilliant time.  My daughter loved the time on the beach and she took a few tumbles, but something great and sad happen on the beach. First: she fell over near a group of twenty somethings who then laughed their heads off. Second: she accidentally stood on a flip-flop that someone had left on the sand by their towel.

The first event is something that happens occasionally and sadly it blights a childhood of growing up with a disability. It is not the worst and it won’t be the last. In fact one of the worse things was on a sports day. A child said to his dad that his team wouldn’t win, because they had my daughter on their team.  Thankfully, I wasn’t there, or I would have expressed, in a polite way, how displeased I was at that comment. However, I do feel sorry for that lad. It wasn’t necessarily his view. Dare I say it; I think the prejudice was all down to the dad. Children are far more tolerant than adults. Children ask questions, where as adults stare and gawp - and form grudges.  

The second incident was the one I am more interested in: my daughter stood, as she struggles to control her legs, on somebody’s flip-flop that was abandoned by a man's towel. She realised that she had done something possibly bad, so she picked up the item and handed it to the total stranger. The stranger didn’t speak English, but she said sorry and even bent down again to pick up the other abandoned flip-flop, thinking that the stranger had lost them both. I watched this in awe, as she did something that made me so proud. I was when more proud when I think I had already been squashed by an eleven year old on an inflated Nemo that morning. The eleven year old just gave a cursory sorry. My daughter wasn't aware of the fact of that I watched the whole event unfold; she just did it without me barking her to say sorry. But, what makes it even better the second bit. She picked up the other flip-flop.

I suppose this week I want to talk about manners. This summer we have people talking about students needing grit, facts, skills – but, you know what? I think we need manners. A couple of years ago David Cameron announced his ‘Big Society’ idea. In a nutshell, people had to pay something back into society by volunteering. Nice idea, but I don’t think it ever really left the ground. We often hear talk of a broken society and how the ‘youf’ of today are lacking something.  But, I think it is our relationship with politeness that needs working on. If people were politer, then the society we live in would be a much better one.

I look to my grandparents for role models of politeness. They are both in the seventies, but they are models of politeness and respect. They would always been respectful and never say a bad word about anybody. They are so lovely, but they don’t scream for attention. They don't always insist that they are write. They don't even demand an apology is something doesn't go right. They don’t demand to be spoken to.  They don’t demand to be mollycoddled. They just wait and say nice things. They live and breathe Paul Grice’s maxims:

 
Quantity – make your contribution as informative as informative as required for the current purposes of the exchange. Do not make your contribution more informative than required
Quality – Try to make your contribution one that is true. Do not say what you believe to be false and/or do not say that for which you do not have adequate evidence
Relation – be relevant to topic at hand
Manner – avoid obscurity of expression, avoid ambiguity, be brief and be orderly
 
(Source: http://www.examiner.com/article/grice-s-maxims-how-we-communicate-effectively )
 
They know what to say and how to say it. They don’t blurt the first thing that comes to mind. It is funny that I only came across Grice's maxims when I taught A-level English Language. However, they are more important to all lessons and all conversations than just an English Language lesson.

Tom, isn't about time you let Jan speak now? Quantity.
Rick, you haven't read the poem yet. Quality.
Jenny, how does 'Waterloo Road' relate to the character of Curley and the work you are doing now? Relation.
Mark, how can you say that in a more pleasant way? Manner
 
As a teacher, I know how I spend a lot of my time getting students to follow rules of politeness and adhere to the maxims above. It is hard and difficult, but I think the systems in place work against us. A child-centre approach to teaching has left us, over the years, with the following ideas hidden in our educations system:

·         Lots is good.

·         All contributions are worthy and valid.

·         We love it if students think of crazy and ‘out the box’ ideas.

·         Be the first to say it.

Now, any teacher worth their weight in gold will challenge these ideas from lesson to lesson. But, I think we have a culture that promotes all of these notions. Look at celebrity culture and I think you can relate most of these to it. Lots of attention is good for a celebrity. Every utterance a celeb speaks finds its way into the media and the public sphere. We adore celebrities if they are barking mad. The madder the better. We like the gaga, if possible. Finally, most celebrity are quick to get on the band-wagon of the next best idea.  But, it isn’t just celebrity culture. Look at how people drive. Look at people deal with conflicts. Nobody sits and listens. It is all about who can speak the loudest and who has been wronged the most.  Driving around in a car is like driving around in your own tank. Say what you want and do what you want, because you are impervious to harm. The behaviour in a classroom can reflect this tank-like attitude towards the world.  Look at Aristotle and his view of the world. His placing of the world in the centre of the universe missed some many interesting and varied things. Do we put ourselves in the centre of the universe? If you are a teacher, you don't. Your function is to make others better to further improve and benefit society.

I was unlucky to have a terrible experience in a lift recently. I was waiting for a lady and her child to get into the lift. She spoke to the child like he was dirt. He wasn’t doing what she wanted him to do. (We’ve all been there) She swore at the lad. She called him a ‘shit’ and that she was going to ‘f***ing hit him’ if he didn’t move this minute. Now, I don’t know the full picture and I know how frustrating children can be, but was it really appropriate to swear? Somebody will teach that lad one day and the message he has learnt from his mother is that if you are unhappy and not getting your own way, swear. I am not suggesting that ‘please’ was the magic word here. This might have also been a bad day for this person, but isn't this a sign of a lack of awareness of others? I was listening. My daughters were listening. The shop was listening. Was this person at the centre of the universe and blind to the rest of creation?  

Over the years, I have developed several mantras, but my most recent one is:

The most intelligent person finishes work last and speaks last.

This was born out my frustration of students rushing work to please me by being the first to finish. Furthermore, I was fed up of student saying the first thing that comes to mind. This 'me, me, me' attitude is so draining. Yes, everybody is important and special, but you have to wait your turn. We live in a world that screams, shouts, cries, blurts and wails all the time. The classroom is where we can partly address this. We have to teach this screaming baby how to interact with others. The models they have are not the best ones and with recent events relating to social media, there has never been a more appropriate time to address how students should interact with others.

A year ago, I wrote a blog about advice to an NQT. This year my advice is for NQTs to come up with a set of rules of polite behaviour you expect in your classroom. Because, if there is one thing in teaching I have is learnt is that you don’t ever assume something. Your students may not have the same rules of politeness that you have. What are your rules of politeness? What are your classroom maxims? My go something like this:

 

·         Wait for the lesson to start, before you ask the teacher what the lesson is about.

·         Talk in a calm and friendly manner to students and teacher.

·         Never raise your voice.

·         Only talk about things related to the topic in the lesson.

·         Give others a chance to speak.

·         Do not dominate a conversation.

·         All requests should be questions rather than commands.

I could go on and on.  Teaching children how to be polite is hard work, but if you look at our reports they show us how important manners are to us. How many reports have you written that say that a student is a polite individual? Having children myself, I know how blooming hard it is getting them to be polite and kind. My children aren't always the most politest of things and it is bloody hard work getting them to be polite. The more of us that raise politeness as an issue, the more polite our little society will be. A kinder place to live in.

When we have got the children and teenagers acting politely, then maybe we could get the adults acting politely.

Thank you ever so much for reading this blog,

Xris32

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