Ask Tom

Teacher, TES Connect blogger and behaviour expert Tom Bennett puts on his agony uncle hat and answers your education questions

Tes Editorial

I have an extremely shy student whom I have spent the best part of the year trying to cajole into being more active and comfortable in the classroom. I have tried a few approaches: small group work so speaking out is less intimidating; directing questions to him when I know he is passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. But he clams up, goes red and looks away. It is awkward for all and I feel terrible for doing it. Have you any tips for helping this sort of student to come out of their shell?

A teacher, via email to

It's understandable that you want to build up character attributes that will help this student in transferable ways. But unpicking this kind of issue is likely beyond the capacity of someone who sees him only part of the week. Shyness is something that takes years to overcome; your efforts are laudable, but don't feel a failure if he remains shy. In fact, remember that this is part of who he is and there are many equally valid ways for people to live. Communicate with him through great marking and private conversations. The less you force him, the less anxious he will feel.

What is your position on sarcasm? I was recently told off by the senior management team for "belittling" students using sarcasm, yet I find that it is effective and good for a bit of banter with students.

A teacher, via email to

Your banter is another's misery. Some pupils don't possess your wit and wisdom, and can't discern if you're being mean or not. Also, if they were sarcastic to you, you would be annoyed, and doing it yourself normalises it. I use a bit myself but only when I have very strong relationships, and even then I'm careful. When in doubt, don't.

I am about to take 30 kids to Peru for four weeks. They are aged 15-16 and very hormonal. Should I try to police them 247 or should I just accept that there will be things I will have to tolerate and things I won't be able to prevent happening?

A teacher via Twitter to @tes

International trips equal constant vigilance from you. The pupils' lives are literally in your care. Patrol them far more closely than you would at school. Obsessively count heads. Walk corridors every hour until everyone is asleep. Check rooms frequently. If you accept that "things will just happen" then they will. Remember, these children's parents are counting on you to take care of them. So take care.

Tom teaches full-time at Raine's Foundation School in London.

Do you agree with his advice? To have your say or ask a question, visit www.tesconnect.comasktom or email

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