01 Dec 2020
By Alan Peters
Teachers do rather love a rule, but the best classrooms exist almost without them. They are places of mutual respect, and as such do not need a list of what is and isn’t permissible. That mutual respect is, of course, engendered by great teaching.
Still, I suppose that this respect in itself has to look like something, and those characteristics form the backbone of a set of rules:
Pretty much common sense, really.
Nerve Agents are banned (except on the last day of term).
Beyond the very obvious, but very important guideline of engendering an atmosphere of mutual respect, comes a list of increasingly ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ type diktats. Users must be particularly careful to insert inappropriately placed capital letters and punctuation marks (to demonstrate that you are self-deprecatingly ironic about having to set rules in the first place).
Personally, I also tended to hold the rule that knives or other offensive weapons were banned in my classroom (I left a shoebox outside the door), but generally didn’t feel the need to be explicit about this.
Too Prescriptive and it Becomes A Question of what is Missed Out
The danger of coming up with too many rules is that the misdeeds not explicitly stated tend to become legitimised. It’s like the swimming pool:
Beware the Plain Stupid Rules…
Ever more conscious that I am a bit of a dinosaur in a rapidly changing social media world, nevertheless I have always been conscious that students are there to learn, and any rule that detracts them from that really is somewhat stupid.
The most obvious, and annoying, is the ‘Stand Up when an Adult/Visitor/Teacher enters the room,’ rule. What can be more disruptive to a pupil engaged in a piece of creative writing than to be dragged out of their seats when a ‘visitor’ disturbs their lesson?
We know that Goody Two Shoes Gary and Annoying Annie will be sitting there, three quarters of their attention on the classroom door so that they can be the first to leap to their feet when Mr Williams comes in to borrow a board marker, yet again. (Board markers, by the way for those of a certain youthfulness are pens used to write on white boards. They are the ones older teachers use to wreck the interactive whiteboard. Whiteboards, for those who work in privately owned schools, are what happens when chalk is now longer allowed to be thrown at Biggs Major in the back row.)
Other rules that are enjoyable, in a perverse sort of way, include:
Let’s Choose The Rules Together…then I’ll tell you what to do.
Now that’s a beginning of term filler if ever there was one. Teacher and class sit down and decide on the rules for the year, then the deputy who devised the task sends out his classroom rules. Still you can always dig the list out of your desk when Jimmy Jones transgresses. ‘Look Jimmy, it says here “No Chewing Gum”, in capitals. And that was YOUR rule, not mine.’ ‘Actually,’ Jimmy wants to reply, ‘I said we should be allowed it, but you didn’t write that down.’
Seriously, though, it does come back to respect. Respect from the teacher towards the class, collectively and as individuals; respect from the students towards each other and respect from the pupils towards the teacher. Achieve that, and everybody is laughing (without having to be told that the ‘Joke’s over now!’)
Rule Number Two: No More Rules. That’s an order.
I am aware that I am being flippant here, and some teachers really do like to set a list of rules; some students need it explaining explicitly what is acceptable and what is not. But for all that, a classroom where respect is mutual and constant really needs nothing more to be spelled out.
In ‘The Lord of the Flies’ Jack states: ‘We have got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are the best at everything.’ Golding was employing irony, especially as Jack becomes quite the savage later in the book, and anybody following the English football team knows we are far from best at everything.
But his words have a serious meaning. When we make too many rules, we create the opportunities to break them.
Just like teaching itself, keep it simple and the complex list of rules sent by your under employed Deputy Head can end up where they belong. In the bin. Or for making paper aeroplanes. Unless that’s against the rules.
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