Teachers: your top 10 pet hates

Susan Young asks a panel of experts for strategies to overcome your top 10 pet hates.

Our Experts

  • Cary Cooper is Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University, and an international authority on the workplace. Advised the National College for School Leadership on headteacher wellbeing.
  • Sue Cowley is a teacher, writer and presenter. A bestselling author of books for teachers and parents, including Getting the Buggers to Behave. Her latest book is Guerrilla Guide to Teaching 2 (Continuum, £16.99).
  • Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. She was previously head of the School of Education at Kingston University, and began her career as an English teacher.

1. Pupils

The older they get, the more they annoy you. You particularly loathe:

  • Lazy Year 11s who think they own the school.
  • Children who think that they can get away with anything because they know that their parents will back them up.
  • Rude children.
  • Pupils who answer back.
  • The general lack of social skills.

Sue Cowley says: Focus on the good kids: they’re always in the majority and deserve attention. Never forget that you were a child once - I bet most of us annoyed the odd teacher. It’s tempting to say that children have too much freedom, and answer back too much. I’d rather it was like that than the situation when I was at school - you did as you were told through fear and not respect.

2. The Senior Management Team

You dislike in particular:

  • Leaders who don’t actually lead.
  • Heads who have forgotten what teaching is like.
  • Heads who don’t back up on discipline.
  • Heads of department who won’t be Hods, aka “I got me money, now I’m gonna delegate.”
  • SMTs “who wouldn’t know what to do with 30 Year 9s in the same place at the same time, but are happy to dish out advice to those who do”, said one exasperated woman.

Cary Cooper says: Leaders must lead, and then you need other people to manage. It’s important to walk the talk - Sir Terry Leahy at Tesco goes out once a week, to meet the people, talking to staff. Heads should be in classrooms and talking to kids. It’s vital to praise people. Hods must build teams. It is important to delegate, but you have to explain what and why.

3. Parents

What’s to like? You hate:

  • The parent who says: “What the f**k do you want me to do about it?” when you call to say their child has failed to hand homework in.
  • Parents who won’t back up the school, despite signing an agreement to say they will.
  • Parents who worry their six-year-old is misbehaving, but let them watch horror films.
  • Parents who moan their child is not making progress but who don’t turn up for appointments.
  • The parent who calls to ask what you are going to do about the fact their child has not done any homework this term.

Sue Cowley says: Although I’d never make excuses for rubbish parents, since becoming one myself a while ago, I can vouch for the fact that it’s much harder work bringing up two of your own than sorting out 30 of someone else’s.

4. Initiatives

“There is a cycle here; the teacher slowly comes round to the idea that we have now changed the reading scheme. After some time, and a hefty amount of work, the teacher begins to have some faith in the new scheme and gets used to it, perhaps for only a term, before it’s replaced with something better. Something better indeed!”

Sue Cowley says: Throughout my career, I’ve made a point of conveniently overlooking those initiatives I don’t think are right (except for the occasional visit from Ofsted).

Have faith in your professional judgment. In about three years’ time someone will say that you were doing the right thing all along. Teachers should never be afraid to say: “That won’t work in my classroom.” You know your kids; you know what’s right for them. In any case, the occasional bit of subversion is huge fun.

5. Paperwork

You don’t like:

  • Risk assessments that take hours to complete.
  • Paper exercises that make no difference to your pupils’ progress.
  • Having to write everything down as evidence if a child behaves badly.

Cary Cooper says: Prioritise it. Teachers are bad at doing that, and tend to worry that if they don’t do it all something dreadful will happen.

6. Meetings

OK if short and to the point. You hate:

  • Meetings that are called by someone who is cosmetically trying to “give something an airing” or “to make people feel listened to” when they have already decided what they are going to do.
  • Meetings “that could have been conducted electronically via email yet go on for 45 minutes and nothing actually gets decided anyway.”

Cary Cooper says: One trick is to schedule them for before school, or later in the evening, so that there is a definite time limit. It is also important to prioritise what’s on the agenda, most important first, and set a time limit for each item.

7. Colleagues

Yes, really. And in particular:

  • People who don’t share ideas.
  • Teachers who give their class an easy ride (because pupils then moan about more demanding colleagues).

A secondary teacher adds: “Colleagues who take pupils out of my lessons unapologetically and say: ‘Don’t worry; he’ll catch up with all the work’. If the pupil could really catch it all up unaided, why come to school at all?!”

Cary Cooper says: When we’re stressed we tend to get upset, and teaching is now a stressful job. A good head or head of department will bring people together and allow them to raise issues troubling them.

8. Outsiders

Two main hates:

  • Constant interference by those who think that because they went to school, they know how it works.
  • People who say “But you start at 9am and finish at 3pm and you get all those holidays.”

Cary Cooper says: Just ignore them. Or rather, listen - because outsiders sometimes do have real insight. But discard what isn’t useful.

9. Consultants, Ofsted, lesson observation

An Ofsted inspector says:Teachers who cope best being observed are those who don’t try and put on anything special - doing that can often backfire if the pupils ask why you’re teaching the same lesson again.

10. Low-Level Disruption

“Unacceptable behaviour that disrupts the rest of the class and is not dealt with.”

Sue Cowley says: See it from the kids’ perspective - then you’ll see why it’s so crucial to sort out the low-level disruptors. There is little more irritating than some idiot in your class disrupting your lesson when you just want to get on with it.

Mary Bousted adds: A proactive approach, such as recording incidents and spotting patterns, can pre-empt difficulties. Creating a sense of community can improve behaviour, with pupils engaged in activities where they’re given responsibility.

Colleagues who have contact with difficult pupils can spend time considering positive ways to improve behaviour. And finally, developing codes of conduct with pupils can encourage self-discipline.