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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 Bennett is 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.

Do you accept my challenge?

We often hear about children ‘presenting’ behaviour that is said to be ‘challenging’. ‘Presenting’ reminds me of baboons pressing their buttock-flowers to the cameras, and ‘challenging’ I associate with foppish martial contests to settle points of trivial honour (yeah, that’s how you decide things), but the matter can rest. Of course, the usual tactic for any teacher is to either anticipate the behaviour, heading it off at the pass, or by dealing with it afterwards. But riddle me this, Batman: when is a challenge not a challenge?

  1. You might be just plain wrong. Few things are more annoying than a student pointing out one of your mistakes, especially if you’ve got a bit of steam up and retraction seems an impossibly demeaning position. It isn’t. It is always far, far better to admit that you’ve got a point wrong, than to dig deeper and deeper in a pedagogic imitation of the China Syndrome. It doesn’t have to involve harakiri; a simple, ‘Quite right, well done,’ will suffice, and then you move on. Make no more of it. Of course, if they do, then clobber them with love and detentions.
  2. Misbehaviour might - and I stress the mightness of the might - be covering something else. A student who refuses to come to the board might have wet their trousers (it happened in my class once); a student who rudely refuses to read might have literacy problems; the child you catch punching another may have been spat on by an unseen antagonist. Always, always, always temper every decision you make with the possibility that their might be more to it than you immediately suspect. In the classroom you’re judge, jury and executioner. It’s a responsibility and then some.
  3. But beware the insult disguised as something more neutral. ‘Are you married?’ or ‘Is this lesson nearly over?’ are examples of a kid flipping you the bird in many contexts, especially if they’re normally less disposed to chat amiably about your marital state. Often kids will use a bland, normally legitimate statement to try to offend, simply because they know that, on the surface, or written down on a piece of paper, it would seem harmless enough. The rule here is: if it offends you, then it carries offence. Communicate this to your children. Detentions are good.

Good luck

Tom

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