One of the jobs Lorraine and I have currently, is working with a group of parents about engaging with school: work, life and personnel. During the first session we talked about our own memories of school.
The stories were not all negative, but most of the ones that remain with me are. They are other people’s stories, and it wouldn’t be right to share them here, but what they had in common was that they were frequently moments when a teacher had abused their position. Not physically, but they had simply pushed too hard. There’s a power imbalance in school, and most pupils have learned their role well; the odds are stacked against them, so they are supposed to stand and take whatever is said to them. To allow a teacher to tell them that they will fail the exam. Or that they will never amount to anything. Or that the teacher doesn’t know why they are studying this subject.
Every teacher has a duty to keep order, sometimes a sharp word is needed. Every teacher has moments when they will make pupils in their class uncomfortable, that’s part of challenge. But if a pupil is having nightmares about a particular class, or a particular teacher, and then trying to get out of going to that class, or if, ten, fifteen, twenty years later they are repeating what was said as if it was yesterday, then something has gone wrong.
It struck me that it would have been helpful for the teaching students I met later, to have sat in on that conversation, listened carefully, and then considered the question, what do you want to be remembered for? Chances are, however, they have their own school stories to tell.