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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.

Bellyaches, whines, gripes and grumbles: can I go the toilet?

As a teacher, you will be so much more than someone who talks about the subject that, nominally you consider yourself to be an expert in. You will be a magnet for the slings and arrows of their grievances, and, depending on your temperament and theirs, either the shoulder for them to cry on, or the target of their dissatisfaction. In short, you will often have to deal with their pastoral needs on a micro-level. Of course, every teacher needs to keep the health and physical integrity of their students as their first priority. You are not, repeat not, allowed to let them leave the room with less arms than they entered with. But beyond and below that level of guardianship, you will also be expected to answer a million microscopic calls for attention. Some of them legitimate, many of them merely the product of a fertile imagination. We’ve all had kids looking for the fire exit from your undoubtedly thrilling lesson on chromosomes or potato printing with cries of bathroom longing, or calls for drinks of water and endless requests to return to the playground because ‘I think I’ve left my bag there.’ How do you sort the fable from the fact?

  1. Set your stall out at the start of the year. Anticipate this syndrome, because in any class with more than zero children, someone will wonder ‘How can I get out?’ like some embryonic Steve McQueen. So when you start your year with them, and you’re going over your rules of the room (you ARE doing this, right?) then one of the boundaries you must lay out for them, however old or young they are, are the emergency conditions. Think of it as your fire and safety instructions, on the Good Ship Learning. So let them know that, under certain conditions, you will allow students to leave the room, to leave their seats, to leave their senses. You don’t want anyone to gaily poop on the desk because you wouldn’t let them go for a push. But also let them know that this is an emergency condition only. You have to have this get-out, because some kids get caught short, and you don’t want to be the teacher explaining to a parent why little Sammy needs new shorts. But warn that all kids are- especially after breaks/ lunch/ arrival- expected to arrive, void of bladder and colon, as a general rule. Potty training doesn’t stop at the parental front door.
  2. Make sure your pupil information is up to date and tight. Some pupils will need to go when they need to go due to medical conditions or other problems. God help you if you don’t find this kind of stuff out. So, pay attention to data as it goes out at the start of the year. Of course, this assumes that people responsible for disseminating the data are doing their job.
  3. Once (1) and (2) are taken into consideration, get tough. Anyone who begs repeatedly for visits to the dunny needs to learn the power of ‘no’. There are few things more guaranteed to get a kid to wise up about the need to strain their greens at lunch time, than the realisation that the chamber pot will be unavailable to them in lesson time. Sounds harsh, but for every nice kid who forgets to go, there will be a score or more who see it as a dandy way to spend ten minutes on easy street. Also, if someone keeps begging to go, then feel free to get in touch with home and ask if there’s a toilet condition that needs to be addressed. There may well be. I once had a year 11 kid who kept asking to go, pulling a face into such an expression of deprivation and duodenal distress that I felt the Hague would investigate me if I forbade his exit. So I called home, and explained my concerns about his dainty motions; the bellyaches vanished as quickly as his bellyaching, and I got a letter of apology from home.

Let us never speak of this again.

And good luck


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