Germaine Greer famously wrote that women had “very little idea of how much men hate them.” That may well have been true in 1970 when The Female Eunuch was published, but in the twenty-first century the phenomenon must be very much diminished. Thanks to the internet we have learned a whole new vocabulary centred around different-coloured pills, purveyed by self-proclaimed men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, and practitioners of ‘Game’.
Much of it is very silly, and feminists have enjoyed themselves immensely by skewering it. Some of it is more intellectual: the oeuvre of Jordan Peterson, for instance, who manages to simultaneously appeal to some elements of the ‘men’s rights’ movement and to some elements of edutwitter. And, interestingly, there are some areas where feminists and some of their avowed enemies are in agreement. (For this intersection – see what I did there? – see Clarisse Thorn’s Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser, which is an entertaining and sympathetic and vigorously feminist take on the whole sorry business.)
And in those areas there are, I would tentatively suggest, lessons for teachers.
(Yes, I know. I always think there are lessons for teachers.)
What are these lessons?
I’m glad you asked.
No More Mr Nice Guy. Some teachers have a tendency to think that they ought to be respected and esteemed simply because they are teachers. They are adults with qualifications, and pupils ought therefore to defer to them.
Look, maybe this ought to be how it works. But it isn’t. You might think you ought to be entitled to their obedience. And maybe you can argue that you are, in some philosophical sense. But it won’t make any difference to what happens in the classroom.
Is this unfortunate? Yes, probably. But that’s the way the world is.
They Won’t Be Grateful. You really care about your pupils. You want the best for them. You care much more than other teachers, especially those you’ve come across saying ‘inappropriate’ things about them in the staffroom or on the internet. You work hard for them, sacrificing yourself in the process.
Sorry. They don’t appreciate it. Maybe they should. But they don’t. Is this unfortunate? Yes, probably. But that’s the way the world is.
Pupils will muck about in lessons and slack off if they can get away with it. If you’re expecting them not to just because you’re a good person, you need to adapt your expectations.
You can get upset about this. Or you can accept it and adapt. It’s up to you.
Hang on a minute, I hear you cry. There are schools which are showing this isn’t necessarily true, aren’t there? Especially among the new breed of free school. There, pupils are made to be obedient and deferential, and indeed to demonstrate their appreciation of their teachers, aren’t they?
Well. There are, of course, exceptions. And these schools are, as their leaders and teachers will tell you, exceptional. I’m not disparaging them: I thoroughly approve of what they’re doing. And I follow many of their teachers on Twitter, and I know that these are inspiring people, and that’s what makes the difference: without the charismatic leadership at the top, the disciplinary structures at those schools would be much less likely to work.
It’s All About Confidence. This is the most important thing of all. A teacher should stroll into the classroom the way Donald Trump strolls into his own hotel. If you don’t feel that confidence? Take the advice of every pick-up-artist coach and fake it. Pretend you do.
It gets easier with time. I was amused to see Jordan Peterson suggesting to young men that they should approach fifty young women and ask for their telephone numbers, just to inure them to the entire process including the inevitable rejections. (I dare his teacher fans to offer that advice to boys in their PSHE lessons.) Of course you’ll be nervous to begin with. You’ve just got to get over it.
Does this mean being arrogant? Well … not ideally, no, but if you take your confected confidence a bit too far and the pupils think you’re a bit full of yourself, then that’s better than not taking it far enough and them thinking you’re soft. Act like you deserve respect, rather than moping about how you don’t get it.
The Pupils Don’t Matter. The education of children is your life’s work, right? Wrong. You’re part of something far greater and far more important than them. You are part of an apostolic succession of teachers stretching back to the dawn of civilisation. Those Dark Age Irish monks who kept alive the flame of learning when it was extinguished in much of the rest of Europe didn’t do so in order to have you make something accessible to some fool who’d rather be playing Call of Duty.
Oh, you think they’ll like you better if they know that they are your priority? Congratulations, you’re like every Nice Guy who ever complained that he’d give up anything for a woman and yet found that it didn’t make her like him. Again, it doesn’t work like that. If your focus is them, you’re not interesting, and they won’t be interested in you or anything you have to say. So no, don’t make things ‘relevant’ to their lives. Their lives are tedious. Their lives are the level they can reach on FIFA 17 (or whatever the latest version is) or how many ‘likes’ they can get on Snap Chat. If they want someone to talk to about that, there are many people who’ll do it better than you.
Fortunately you’re in a better position than most would-be pick-up artists: you actually have something interesting to say.
Be Hard To Please. You think pupils should be praised a lot? You think it’s important to acknowledge good performance, and be demonstratively appreciative? In that case you’re the teacherly equivalent of the man whose preferred conversational gambit is to compliment his interlocutor’s looks. Say it too often, and it becomes meaningless noise.
I’d go further. A teacher should be difficult to please. Your approval is the prize. Don’t give it away too easily. If you appear to praise grudgingly and in moderation it will have rarity value, and that will enable you to use it sparingly and to achieve an effect.
Be Funny. Some people find this easier than others. But it can be learned: famously (or, at least, famously among political historians of the third quarter of the twentieth century) Harold Wilson was a classic Oxford-don-cum-civil-servant who had to explicitly learn to be funny. Teachers have an advantage here: we know what’s going to come up in our lessons, we can prepare jokes and asides and wisecracks, and (unlike the Prime Minister or the man on a date) we can hone them. Yes, of course your pupils should appreciate you for your commitment to them and your earnest desire that they should do well. But they won’t. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. Be funny and they’ll be more likely to pay attention.
Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but that doesn’t make it untrue. But the choice, which I understand is between a blue pill and a red pill, is yours.