Be ‘boring and predictable’, teachers told – and don’t nag

Teachers should be “boring and predictable” rather than trying to be “matey” with their students, independent school headteachers have said.

Former Eton headmaster Tony Little said that teachers and parents had a responsibility to offer “stability” to teenagers.

“Young people need to know where adults stand,” he said. “It can be deeply disconcerting for a young person to have a teacher who is unpredictable.

“They come in one minute and they’re all matey and all over you, and the next minute they’re incredibly tough and disciplinarian. Those are teachers who frequently young people in the end don’t like and don’t connect with and don’t learn with, which is more to the point.

“So stability and reliability, these boring words, matter in the lives of teenagers.”

Leo Winkley, headmaster of St Peter’s boarding school in York and vice-chair of the Boarding Schools Association, said his advice to parents and teachers was that “the best thing they can do is be boring”.

“Be reliable, be consistent and be predictable, because as you go though the adolescent journey there’s so much change around, and the last thing they need is unpredictability.”

Speaking at the annual gathering of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents elite private schools, Mr Little also said that the “worst thing” parents could do in trying to build a good relationship with their teenage children was to “nag” them. He said the phrase “and another thing” was “the most counterproductive phrase” a parent could use with a teenager because it caused them to switch off.

He said the most-respected housemasters and housemistresses at boarding schools “aren’t pushovers, they’re not the smiley, touch-feely types, they’re actually people who have standards, who expect them to be upheld, who are strict with them but they’re open, cheerful, direct and the young people feel these people care”.

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