A nation of immigrants means that teachers are educating a more diverse student population, writes Richard Hogan.
THE modern, diverse school, requires a modern, diverse approach.
Millennial children have to navigate a more complicated society than previous generations.
Ireland’s emergent transformation from a traditional, homogenous society to a nation of immigrants means that the country’s teachers are educating a more diverse student population. These students bring with them a new, diverse set of problems. Inherent in our educational structures is a system of ‘looking away’ from a difficult child. Slee (2011) refers to this ‘looking away’ as a ‘collective indifference’.
We know, through research, that, for example, young people who are excluded from school often end up in the criminal justice system.
Children spend, on average, 15,000 hours in school. Some educational researchers suggested that schools have a greater influence on young people’s behaviours and academic achievements than families do. Schools are unlike any other organisations.
They might share commonalities with other organisational systems, but they are utterly unique (Gibson et al, 2014.) It is in this uniqueness that new teachers need to be trained. In school systems, teachers and year-head teachers are responsible for child and adolescent formation, development, and learning.
Teachers undertake these multifunctional roles with little or no training on how to deal with difficult children or what services to access for those children.
If teachers are adequately trained to ‘handle challenging situations, this can prevent teacher burn-out’ (Gibson, 2014).
Inadequacies in training at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and on–the–job, were the most universally cited constraints to creating inclusive learning environments in schools, (Project IRIS, 2015).
New teachers are often charged with some sort of pastoral role for incoming first years. There are dangers in such a practice.
About 20% of school children experience social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties, such as behaviour or conduct problems, anxiety and depression, during the course of any given year, and may need to use of mental health services. A report on adolescent health, published by WHO (World Health Organisation), in 2014, portrays depression as the top global cause of illness and disability amongst adolescents, with suicide being the third-biggest cause of death. The report mentions that half of mental health difficulties begin before the age of 14, underlining the need for early intervention and mental health promotion from an early age.
This report also highlights the absolute need for new teachers to receive the appropriate training and skills to improve their efficacy and effectiveness, when working with young adolescents.
Initial training of teachers needs to focus not only on the acquisition of skills and knowledge, but also on engendering positive attitudes and beliefs about the children who are perceived as different from their peers.
Recent policy initiatives from the Teaching Council (2011a; 2011b), supported by recommendations from the Shalberg Report (2012) in Ireland, have prioritised the reform of structures, content, and delivery to ensure that high-quality teacher education is assured. Within these initiatives, there is an emphasis on enabling newly qualified teachers to address the needs of a more diverse student population.
New Systemic Framework:
There is a need to develop a module that shows teachers how to think systemically in their practice. Adopting a systemic approach to education will help the teacher to understand the complexities of communicational interactions.
This will not only impact on their interaction with their students, but also with their colleagues, other school staff, and parents. Teachers are constantly engaged in this multi-tasking role.
And to gain an insight into systems theory would help them to master these communicational interactions and help them to become even better teachers.
Challenging behaviour is a major source of stress for classroom teachers, with teachers in Europe spending 15% of teaching time dealing with misbehaviour.
Showing teachers how to think systemically about their students would offer teachers a new lens on behavioural problems. The school is set up in such away that behavioural problems are dealt with in a particular, rigid process.
Often, new teachers are reticent to report that a student in their class is experiencing difficulty, for fear it reflects badly on their teaching style or classroom management. This further fuels what Slee refers to as the ‘collective indifference’.
However, if teachers are taught, during their teacher-training, how to ask questions that have the potential to elucidate information, and how to think of their student as belonging to a system that might be negatively impacting or pressing down on him/her, this can open up a new type of conversation, a conversation that has the potential to be transformative for the young adult.
Richard Hogan is a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three.