A behaviour surprise is a lesson well learned

As a new teacher, the experience of seeing a student waving around a dildo in class taught Stephen Lane about the importance of preparing for the unexpected
1st January 2021, 12:05am
What A Student With A Dildo Taught Me About Behaviour
Stephen Lane

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A behaviour surprise is a lesson well learned

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/behaviour-surprise-lesson-well-learned

It was the last thing I expected to see in a Year 8 lesson, but there was no denying it: the object that a student in the class had just produced from their bag and begun to wave around was unmistakably a dildo.

The teacher at the front of the classroom froze. Observing from the back of the room, I tried hard to maintain my composure. The rest of the class were already in hysterics - I didn't want to make the situation worse. 

This moment truly stands out among all the lesson observations that I sat through during my three-year BEd.

There were some instances that came close to the above in terms of cringe factor. I remember once falling asleep observing someone's lesson. I'm not sure what my notes would have said about that teacher's performance. All I do remember was waking up to note that some children at the back of the class were laughing at me. 

But no, not even that could compare to the incident with the dildo.

Part of the learning process for new teachers (and for those of us who've been doing the job for 20 years) is learning how to deal with unexpected behaviour challenges. These can take many forms, but they usually fall into one of several common categories: disruption, insubordination, verbal abuse, and so on.

Many schools have adopted a behaviour management policy that employs a tariff of sanctions based upon the type of behaviour that has been displayed. For instance, failure to comply might automatically equal a detention; verbal abuse of staff might equal isolation. Knowing these policies means that you can make provisions for managing likely behaviour incidents, building that provision into your lesson plan.

But not all behaviours can be predicted; the dildo episode is a perfect example. The class was not an easy one - the teacher was already working hard to maintain an atmosphere that was conducive to learning. When the pupil produced the offending object, they did so without any kind of warning or provocation, right in the middle of the lesson. I think they had also started repeatedly singing the word "willy", as they waved the thing around. 

What could the teacher do? As a first-year BEd student, I was eager to see how a skilled practitioner would react to the unexpected and unsolicited arrival of a phallus into his English lesson. Where is the policy telling you how to respond to that scenario? What might the sanction be for inappropriate dildo waving? What does a teacher even say? I was about to find out.

"Where did you get that from?" the teacher yelled. Not missing a beat, the pupil yelled back: "From my mum's drawer!"

Strangely enough, I don't actually remember what happened next, but I do know that it taught me an important lesson about working in a school: no matter how well you prepare, you will still have to face the unexpected - and sometimes the unexpected will take the form of a rubber phallus. 

Stephen Lane is a head of year and author of Beyond Wiping Noses: building an informed approach to pastoral leadership in schools

This article originally appeared in the 1 January 2021 issue under the headline "A behaviour surprise is a lesson well learned"

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