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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.

It’s your time you’re wasting

One of the oldest tricks in a teacher’s repertoire is the detention- any form of keeping a student behind before or after lessons. This can range from the two minute chat, to a stretch of hours on a Saturday that makes Sing-Sing look attractive. While some teachers view detentions as unnecessary and authoritarian, the basic impetus behind them is simple- in order to dissuade students from misbehaviour, there have to be sanctions, and sanctions have to be at least mildly unpleasant, otherwise they don’t serve their basic functions- to deter the behaviours that you, the teacher have associated with the sanctions. You don’t have to transgress the Geneva Convention in order to make them effective- in fact, I encourage you not to do so- but they do need to matter. If a teacher lacks the stomach for this enterprise, then they need to find one, because setting boundaries means setting consequences if those boundaries are transgressed. So what do you do with students in detention?

  1. White lines - Ah, lines- somewhat of a dirty word in education; but if you want the pupil to remember their time in detention as unpleasant but not traumatic, why not? I get them to write out equations, or reminders about which rule they’ve broken. They rarely forget which one it was.
  2. Copying from books - Again, why not? It could be something educational, perhaps work that they might not otherwise encounter. I’ve spoken to many students who, forced to confront work that is unusual or taxing, develop an interest in the content and ask questions. You never know…
  3. Sitting still, vertical, and looking forward - GOD, it’s boring. It’s meant to be. They’re not meant to be there- and you want them never to return. So make it boring by all means. The whole point is that it’s not a homework catch-up, or a brilliant learning zone; it’s meant to be a gulag, somewhere they don’t want to be. I once read a comment from a parent who said, ‘You should make them do something creative, like pottery.’ Why not pottery? Why not archery? Why not a course in Arabic? Because it’s not meant to be a reward- it’s a punishment. The sooner they realise that, the better, so that they remember not to come again.

 Good luck


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