By Sandy Galland
What teachers do is amazing and slightly terrifying! So says the man who has been catapulted to fame as an authority on children. Child psychologist Nigel Latta talks to Principals Today about his following since The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show went to air.
Nigel calls a spade a spade, advocates we have made everything too complicated, but above all else he believes our schools are doing some remarkable things.
“I think what teachers have to do is amazing and slightly terrifying. If you have a class of 30 something kids – that’s a third of 100 children, in a room together. That’s amazing.”
Author, TV presenter, practicing psychologist and parent, Nigel is in total agreeance that our teachers are being asked to do too much.
“Teachers have to pick up some of the social slack. There are schools feeding kids and there are principals and teachers acting as councilors and social workers, and trying to teach them as well.”
While on one level he believes there is a simple answer, on the whole he comments the world is a bit messed up.
“It just is, and it always will be. We will always be surrounded by bureaucracy and nonsense, but what you have to do is take your little corner of the world, with the people that are there with you, and do what you can for them.
“I get frustrated by how complicated and silly the world gets over things. There is a solution and it’s not even that difficult, it’s just all this bullshit gets in the way of stuff.
“Don’t get hung up on having to change the whole system or the whole world, you just have to say good morning to a particularly unpleasant kid no one else says good morning to. Just that can make a difference.”
Teaching is tough… kids can be tough. Full stop. But like his parenting advice, Nigel says to teachers, don’t take it all too seriously.
“It will grind you down and kill you. It’s about balance. You can only do stuff when you are passionate about it and you can’t get passionate when you are exhausted. So take time off, don’t take it all too seriously and get realistic about what you can achieve.
“You can’t save every kid. You don’t have to do some grand programme sweeping, just say good morning and take some interest in a kid no one takes interest in.
“That can have huge impact. Probably the biggest thing we need to get is that the little things make the biggest differences. And it doesn’t take a huge effort or lots of time, nor lots of money or courses. You don’t have to adopt the kids and take him to sport on Saturdays – just take an interest – that’s all.”
Simple right? Like so much of his sage wisdom – it’s based on common sense and simplicity. He fully acknowledges the world is a complicated place, but we each have a responsibility for our own small part in it.
It’s all about having realistic expectations too, he says.
“What can I realistically achieve with this kid in the time I’ve got with them? Even if it’s a weird, difficult kid and you decide your expectation is not having them not thrown out of your class. If that’s it; that’s the only thing you can achieve, that’s better than that kid learning nothing and being thrown out of the class.”
On getting the best from a student Nigel says he doesn’t know how teachers do it, but he believes it is incredibly simple.
“It’s all about relationships and while that’s a bit boring and a bit dull, it’s fundamentally true.
“It’s about your ability to build a relationship with a kid. Part of that is about wanting to find that stuff in kids which is great. That can be a bit hard when you are teaching lots of them.”
“You can’t be all things to all people”, he adds.
“Some kids you like and some you don’t like. When you look back at your own school career, you had some teachers you didn’t like and they didn’t like you and other teachers that you really clicked with and made a big difference.
“Everybody has different strengths. There are teachers who just love working with those difficult, thorny kids. But if you don’t love those kids, then you shouldn’t work with them.”
As a society we head to conferences looking for the next new tool or technique or set of steps, but really if you look at really effective teachers, the one thing they share in common is they are just really good at building up relationship with their students.
“I think we over complicate the entire world. We certainly do when it come to kids. Somewhere along the way someone decided to find more complicated ways of describing things, hoping this was going to help.
“My hope is that we are getting to the end of that run. I think everyone is saying well ok, we have all these different new ways of describing kids now, but none of it is actually much help when it comes to what do we actually need to do.”
Take a punt and bring back some of the old fashioned activities and attitudes.
Nigel believes schools, in consultation with their communities, should let kids “do all sorts of mad and crazy stuff,” in a controlled way of course.
More and more parents are getting tired of all the PC nonsense that goes on around children.
“Often we think that if we are going to do something (different) then we are going to get in trouble. There are lots of schools doing a lot more risk based activities and doing it well. People want more of that old fashioned stuff.”
On his rise to fame and being put forward as the fifth most powerful person in New Zealand in the Listener’s Power List in the health, education and social issues category in 2009, he finds it all a bit bemusing, a bit hard to take in really.
“Common sense was lying around and no one else was taking credit for it, so we thought lets act as if we invented it – and that’s what we did.”