The warped world of the teacher-therapist

You’re not the second Messiah and that’s OK.

On my timeline yesterday and today is quite a bit of chatter about something called Attachment Disorder (AD). This came up because I had written a blog post about how teachers are expected to parent in addition to teach to each and every child’s ‘needs’ and I felt that this was one of the reasons teachers leave the profession: it’s just too much to ask of one human being and not expect them to have a nervous breakdown! Of course, AD was thrown back at me as something that apparently all teachers should be aware of and cater for, effectively a reposte that implied that, yes, it was the responsibility of teachers (especially primary teachers) to ‘nurture’ children through special intervention groups if no one else can be bothered to do it, in addition to squeezing in a bit of teaching the national curriculum during any spare time of course. To sum up, this is a ‘disorder’ that happens when children don’t form good emotional attachments to their main caregivers (because of neglect/lack of nurturing) in very early childhood and according to attachment theory it manifests in children in the following ways:

  • Not being able to accept discipline
  • Poor self-control
  • Unwilling to take responsibility for own actions
  • (If untreated) Criminal acts, including violence, aimed at other innocent people and animals
  • Initially compliant and ‘nice’ in the classroom, but then bizarrely turns defiant, moody and difficult to handle
  • Poor eating etiquette and stealing others’ food
  • Trouble making friends, working in groups and is quite often a bully
  • Not being able to solve problems or think critically
  • Deliberately doing badly in tests
  • Talking out loud in class
  • Disorganised, rejects instruction that helps with organisation
  • Nosiness
  • Not caring about hurting others
  • Enjoying getting a rise out of the teacher
  • Deliberately ignoring instruction and doing own thing
  • Destroying others’ property
  • Blaming everyone else
  • Attention seeking

I haven’t heard it mentioned at my workplace, yet, but attachment ‘awareness’ does appear to be gaining momentum:

Screenshot 2017-04-17 at 8.03.11 AM

So, if a child in our class is displaying one, some or all of those ‘symptoms’ listed above, then we need to consider whether it is some kind of attachment disorder, especially if the child is adopted or in foster care, and then attempt to cure it through nurture group interventions. But there is a massive assumption underlying all this that I take issue with: that children are naturally ‘good’ or well behaved and any general naughtiness is down to lack of ‘nurturing’. Effectively, in response to the kind of behaviour listed above, instead of telling a child off, giving some kind of punishment or sending them out of the room, we teachers need to assume that the child cannot help themselves, possibly has a mental health issue that absolves them of all responsibility and instead is needing more love and general positive ‘affirmation’ in order to cure that child.

We live in narcissistic times and I’m continuously amazed (read: shocked) at the sheer amount of confidence, bravado and self-belief of new, young teachers entering the profession (I was never like that when I was in my twenties). Perhaps this is just the way society and Western culture is evolving, but I can’t help but think that recruitment advertising is driving a hidden process by which teachers (especially the young ones) entering the profession really do believe that they can be that ‘special person’ who can change a child’s behaviour through love, kindness and inspirational lessons. If you are in any doubt as to this process, take a look at this advert for Teach First and think about the hidden messages: anyone who is perhaps a little more realistic about their own human capabilities would be put off from applying. Further, if you look at pretty much all adverts for teaching roles, you will find an emphasis on ‘performance’ which effectively allows extroverts (who are more likely to be overly self-confident) to dominate the profession, especially when it comes to promotion. The upshot of all this is that unproven neuromyths such as attachment disorders can be promoted because the majority of new teachers are more than happy to boost their own ego through trying to be that one special adult who can transform a child through love and inspirational lessons. Everything fits nicely together like a jigsaw. Except when it doesn’t.

Many who are reading this would be thinking that love and inspirational lessons sounds like a really good idea. ‘Bring on the nurturing, performing teachers!’ But what if lots of nurturing doesn’t cure a child of AD and the misbehaviour that allegedly results, or if the teacher just runs out of emotional energy required to ‘cure’ it? What if the child isn’t ‘inspired’ by ‘fun’ lessons either or the teacher runs out of time and energy to make all 25 lessons a week jaw-droppingly amazing?

It’s all the teacher’s fault. Put them on capability, crush them with workload and drive them out. Get more young, cheap, energetic and deluded NQTs in.

You know what’s really sad about this situation? It’s the fact that while everyone’s falling over themselves ‘loving’ and ‘inspiring’ the children who are badly behaved, there are children who are silently suffering, yet being ignored. Why? Because they’re well behaved, quiet and just get on with the job of listening and learning. These are the children who not only have a shit time at home, but also have to put up with having their learning, and therefore their entire future, compromised because all this ‘love’ and ‘inspiration’ is failing to cause a child with ‘AD’ to behave in class. This injustice of this situation, when I think about it, makes me feel quite angry

What is the answer? As you know, I believe the forgotten wisdom of traditional education saves the day. Structure, routine, heirarchy and whole-school discipline saves time, energy and perhaps even lives.

  • The teacher is supported to teach rather than expend all their energy trying to be a therapist
  • The child who misbehaves is supported to behave and do well academically (discipline is true love, as opposed to false love which boosts the ego of the person who is overtly demonstrating that ‘love’)
  • The quiet, silently suffering child can take refuge in a peaceful and positive classroom as well as look forward to a bright future

Who’s with me?




7 thoughts on “The warped world of the teacher-therapist

  1. I’m now reading “The Vision of the Anointed” by Thomas Sowell, a black American economist who has amassed empirical evidence that demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy of liberal establishment. He meticulously dissects the growth patterns of social interventions in the United States, and the result is invariably the same: problems become far, far worse. These failures are inevitably shrugged off, and the worsening problems are inevitably used to justify even more ambitious (and expensive) action. The ‘anointed’ are an antinomian elite who are so convinced of their moral rectitude that they passionately believe that things would be much worse without their intervention. Although their opponents, people such as you and I, usually credit them with good intentions, in turn we are treated with scorn and (in the case of education) accused of ignoble motivations, such as the desire to turn kids into unthinking automatons to do the bidding of evil capitalists.

    My first contact with the anointed came in 1975, when I worked for the Shape Housing Association in Birmingham. This was an idealistic project that ran a hostel for young men on care or probation orders, and employed them to fix up short-life houses for emergency housing. I was engaged as works supervisor, and taught my young charges how to use power tools to good effect, and motivated them to turn over houses much faster than my predecessor had. In addition to their social security, we paid them £10 per week ‘expenses’–most of which went for beer and fags, needless to say. Although morale was very good, inevitably you got kids who’d try it on: I just sent them home for the day, and their money got stopped.

    This was all going very well until the kids discovered that they could go into the office and one of our social workers could be counted on to take them out for lunch, which of course included plenty of smokes before and after. They knew perfectly well that all they had to do was present a litany of woes (nobody understands me!) and they’d get lots of attention. The upshot of all this is that when I threatened to resign, the Trustees called an emergency meeting, and I was offered the directorship. I turned it down–I pointed out that I hated admin work, and was much happier on the tools working with the kids. In any case, I didn’t want to squander my energy arguing with our social workers, who really were very nice kids, but nonetheless filled with an impenetrable belief that they were doing good. Eventually I went ‘private’: it was far easier to make young lads into useful citizens as a jobbing builder.

    Insofar as ‘Attachment Awareness’ is concerned, it seems incredible that these people would be ignorant of the failure of the last grand effort along these lines: SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning). The official evaluation concluded that the programme

    “… failed to impact significantly upon pupils’ social and emotional skills, general mental health difficulties, pro-social behaviour or behaviour problems … Analysis of school climate scores indicated significant reductions in pupils’ trust and respect for teachers, liking for school, and feelings of classroom and school supportiveness during SEAL implementation.”

    Considering that evaluations of educational initiatives are generally carried out by university education department who have a vested interest in putting a favourable gloss on the results, this is as damning an indictment as you are likely to see. But never mind–no one will ever notice that ‘Attachment Awareness’ is just the same thing on stilts. I’m all for a civilised debate, but I think it’s time we stopped pulling our punches.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is not an ideological argument. There are real children with real Attachment Disorder. I don’t know how many there are, and I don’t know whether the number is growing due to lack of parenting expertise for various reasons, but they are not simply ‘badly behaved’. They are damaged. I don’t think children with AD should be lumped in with generally ‘badly behaved’ others.
    There is lots of information about AD here:


  3. You’re right to identify the essential, underlying idea here: that children are essentially good. This is a great example of a fundamentally progressive idea that is almost universally accepted, and does huge harm. If teachers believe this, they will remain progressive no matter how many traditionalist buzzwords they adopt.


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