Nature abhors a vacuum. Human nature abhors a power vacuum.
Idealistic teachers often propose a classroom set up where co-operation reigns over command and control. Whilst lovely in theory, in practice we end up with more of a dystopia than utopia.
A teacher’s decision not to assert their authority won’t result in a classroom of equals. There will be a leader. It just won’t be the adult.
Instead, it will be your most bolshy pupil.
It’s true of adults, too. Think of any group you’ve worked in. Everyone hates being over-managed. But a vacuum of leadership is worse. It sounds seductive, not being told what to do. But even in a group of well-intentioned, motivated adults, the frustrations of decision making by committee soon lead to collapse – unless, of course, a natural, unofficial leader emerges. Lack of certainty is uncomfortable, unsafe and unenjoyable.
So it’s no wonder it’s a calamity when applied to a group of children with less maturity, more competing motivations, and a more acute sense of peer approval.
Humans intrinsically seek belonging and will impress whomever necessary to make that a reality. Make that the most fearsome member of year 9 set 3, and the results are predictable.
Being a leader, telling children what to do, and keeping clear, tight boundaries is the kindest thing to do. It keeps our children safe and allows them to learn. Us teachers should never feel we have to apologise for being the one calling the shots. Anything else is an abdication of our responsibility to keep our children safe, happy, and learning.