“Who are this rowdy lot?” I had to ask myself this question during PSHE last week. Not with a group of gangly year 11s or with some highly strung hormonal year 9s. No, I had to ask this question of my own form group, my lovely year 7s.
So unrecognisable are they now from the meek little creatures who sat before me six months ago, I had to do a double-take just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally stumbled into the year 10 form room next door.
They had started the year so angelic, so unassuming, and so full of promise. The metamorphosis they have undergone since those early days is astonishing. They are loud, they are chatty and at times it feels like barely a week passes without some form of minor drama or word from a teacher that so-and-so forgot their homework, or you-know-who was disruptive again.
Where did I go wrong? Was I too strict? Did I not give them the freedom to make their own mistakes and form their own moral compass?
Perhaps I was too relaxed? Maybe I did not enforce the boundaries in a way that made them crystal clear?
Like a lamenting parent, I have begun to find myself retracing each stage of my relationship with my form, picking apart each incident, searching in vain for clues as to where the cracks could have first started to emerge.
I feel like the behaviour of my form is reflection of how I am as a form tutor. If my pupils misbehave then have I failed them in some way? Must I have failed to guide them appropriately towards the path of an easy and comfortable academic life? Whether good, bad, or somewhere in between, I feel somewhat responsible for the performance and behaviour of the pupils in my form.
Having reflected upon this, I have decided to seek relief in the knowledge that part of the issue could be the information filter bias to which we are all susceptible; as teachers we are at risk of always remembering to pass on the negatives at the expense of emphasising the positives. I know I am guilty of this crime; too often I will let a form tutor know when a pupil has been misbehaving or failed to produce good quality homework, but how often do I take the time to pass on the good things?
This can lead to the inaccurate perception that your class are a bunch of heathenist little monsters, when in reality there are just a noticeable minority managing to rub a couple of people up the wrong way here and there while on the whole they are just a group of likeable young people trying their best to make it through the confusing and tangled maze that is their first year in secondary school.
I was once given some excellent advice to ensure I do not contribute to this perception bias; before you give any negative feedback about a pupil, make sure you have already given three other pupils positive feedback. This can be applied to how we feedback not only to pupils, but to form tutors and other teachers.
A teaching assistant who runs a creative writing club redressed my perception balance today by showing me a story written by a pupil in my form. The pupil had spent all of the prior evening constructing what seemed to be the best part of a small novel. My form may have a few too chatty characters, but at least they are bright, creative and unique – and they do make my days interesting.
Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.