Behaviour management: The kid who doesn't care

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

There’s always one, isn’t there? You’ve got lots of systems in place: clear boundaries, regular sanctions tied to reinforcement of good behaviour by reward and praise. That’s all it takes for most kids. But some will inevitably scorn all this. When you warn them what will happen if they don’t start being more agreeable, they reply with words that chill: ‘I don’t care.’

Mark this: they do care. It’s just that their reaction is geared towards antagonism. Some kids enjoy appearing tough or cruel. We can wonder where they learned that from. Maybe they live in a household where you get nothing for being nice. Maybe they are in competition with lots of other kids for attention and the only way they get noticed is by being disruptive.

On the other hand, you don’t have the time and training required to be a super sleuth. If a kid doesn’t respond to the normal procedures, you have a few options:

1. Turn up the heat

If a pupil regularly does detentions, make sure you give them something to do - writing if they’re old enough, tidying if they aren’t. It has to be something more than doing nothing and just uncomfortable enough that they don’t want to be there. Keep up with the consistency. If a pupil is frequently being naughty, try to tone down the praise a bit to avoid sending mixed messages. “I’m happy AND sad about your behaviour” might be true, but it’s too complex for some. Let them know that you disapprove overall. This might mean appearing more cross than you feel, especially if you’re a very nice person - as I’m sure you are.

2. Repetition means escalation

If a pupil regularly misbehaves, especially for the same offence several times in a row, then I treat the misdemeanours collectively, as if a more serious offence had been committed. Otherwise, the pupil can get away with the same behaviour forever. Persistence makes low-level behaviour a high-level problem. So, add up all the offences and treat the pupil as if they had been violent or vandalised the school. Call parents in, keep up the pressure and make them care about the kid’s conduct at school. Follow school procedures for more serious misbehaviour. That could mean exclusion, or it could mean regular, planned isolation, which most kids hate.

3. Make sure senior staff get involved

They can start to help with the alternative provision the pupil needs. More importantly, the class (and you) need this even more. The needs of the many sometimes do outweigh the needs of the few. Either you will turn the poor behaviour around with persistence or at least manage the pupil into a situation where their egotistical needs can’t disrupt your lessons so much.

Good luck



Tom Bennett is a teacher at Raines Foundation, a state school in inner city London. He regularly supports teachers through the TES behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour pages or on the @tesBehaviourTwitter account.

His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum/Bloomsbury.

Related articles and resources

Recent ‘Top Tips’

Dealing with threatening comments

Can smileys and frowneys control a class?

How to cope under pressure

More ‘Top Tips’

Links to all Tom’s top tips

Relevant resources on TES

Behaviour and classroom management resources

Behaviour and classroom management resource collections