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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennettis the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

The Ages of Man (and woman): Year 9s

A lot of secondary teachers experience something similar to the terrible twos in their careers; the legendary, eternal truth that their year 9 cohorts will be almost without exception, more of a handful than any other year group. While this isn’t a law of nature, there’s a lot of truth in it- that point in a child’s life acts as a delta for a variety of confusing, conflicting tributaries, any one of which would make a student more challenging/ interesting, depending on your glass full/ empty default. The raging current of hormones howling through their minds and bodies, turns meek, mild Banner into a radioactive Hulk; the emergent sense of self, and the embryonic construction of identity, value systems and objections to the status quo; the vestigial remains of the infant’s egoistic world-view; greater financial mobility, perhaps; the taste for independence and autonomy. In the middle of that battlefield, you’re trying to teach them about the Tudors and Venn diagrams, while they’re trying to attract the attention of Maisy or Malik across the room.

Get your wellies on:

  1. Planning groups and seating plans is essential.. The dynamic of any group is a fascinating thing; press on one lever here, and a door opens there. Close the door, and the ground moves elsewhere. Unless you work for Channel 5 and you’re hosting a celebrity house-mate reality cruelty show, you don’t have time for subtlety. But you can be alive to the educational needs of the kids, and where you’re going to put them. Break up peer groups, by gender or any other style you fancy, unless you find they work better that way. That’s the key here - does it work? That’s all that matters. If anyone howls and says, ‘But SHE gets to sit with her pals!’ I suggest you care not a jot. You’re not there to service their social lives - they’ll do just fine on their own - but to enable their education.
  2. Recognise their emergent personalities. There are little people forming before your very eyes, little individuals. As they sprout and stretch, they will try on personalities and characters for size. Often, many will exhibit melodramaticism, sudden bouts of introversion, or tsunamic outbursts. Friendships will fracture, reform and shatter in the space of a heartbeat. To some extent, your job is to steam roller over these things; after all, the learning, the learning is the most important thing, and you will be lost like the 13th Tribe of Israel if you try to follow it. But any good teacher should try to be aware, through the school grapevine, if there are any bust-ups, break-ups and make-ups in the groups you teach.
  3. Never forget they are still children. It’s easy, particularly if you’re new to the job, or recently out of school yourself, to mistake them for adults, albeit odd ones. They seem so tall. They may even have beards, like Tolkien’s dwarves, a taste for gold (also a dwarven trait) and an obsession with swearing and trying their luck (Tolkien is silent in this regard). The intuitive thing is to defer to them slightly more, to permit them freedoms beyond your comfort zone, or even, in extreme situations, to feel intimidated by them. Do none of these things; they are still children, and they still need you to be the grown up. Stand tall, even if they tower above you, and give them the boundaries that they need, without fear or favour. And by doing so, you bring compassion and structure into lives that are already chaotic enough. And you give them a climbing frame, a launch platform from which they can take off.

Or not. But at least you’ve provided it…

Good luck

Tom

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