Notes on Dialogue

Poor Helle. She got up to make a couple of speeches praising the solidarity of the labour movement, only to be booed off and hit with a water pistol and a tomato. Not her day.

Her response to the noise made by the crowd to drown out her speech was surprised, pedagogical hurt. A stock in trade for most teachers. ‘It’s your own time you’re wasting! You’re only cheating yourself!’

“Today is about dialogue.”

The thing about dialogue, though, is that if you are having a dialogue one-on-one and the other person appears not to be listening, eventually you stop listening. And if what they are saying offends you or hurts you or irritates you, you interrupt them. You shout at them. You stop them from talking.

For a crowd of a couple of hundred people in easy-going ligeglad Denmark to turn so mean so quickly, has major implications for Helle’s administration.

The teachers had planned a peaceful protest which took place: where they turned their backs on her. I don’t know who was booing and whistling. Maybe teachers too but not part of the main group.

I chose not to attend because even that: turning your back on someone speaking, seemed a little too edgy for me. A little too offensive.

You see, I have been there. So many times.

School classes turn mean if they do not feel respected or listened to. And they too will prevent you from being heard. In my first term of each UK school I have taught in, I have had to deal with students ignoring me and making it impossible for me to continue with the lesson. After a few weeks of demonstrating that I do care about them and I am a good teacher, things settle down and it is only the mentally ill students who cause trouble after that.

What you need to remember about the UK is this: the teaching unions were very strong and teaching practise was led by practitioners. Then the government decided they needed to denigrate teachers for political points between the 80s and the 90s and massive campaigns to reduce respect for teachers were launched. These are ongoing to date. No one respects teachers in the UK, which means their kids don’t. Which means classes can be really difficult to reach.

I learned in my teaching in London schools that ‘respect’ is earned and that the children would need to be taught to respect me. I gave them activities that were not boring or didn’t waste their time, I talked to them like adults, I was fair when I had to decide things about them. I took their views into account. I gave them responsibility in the classroom.

And eventually, the class realise it is a dialogue and they stop drowning you out. Because they trust you to listen.

I guess Danish politicians are finding out that they do not deserve respect just because they have the podium. Maybe it is not too late to win trust back.