The problem

I'm teaching in a school on a supply basis (although I've been here for years and know the students well) and have inherited a class that is expected to get D, E and F grades in my subject. I recently had a double lesson with them where only about five out of 28 would do anything they were set. I went around the room giving them ultimatums and encouragement but this had no effect. One student told me: "We are leaving school in four weeks - no one cares if we do this." Most agreed. I tried to say that I, at least, cared but it was to no avail. Very few students attempted anything more than a couple of sentences. I am at a loss about how to make them do the work. I have spoken to the head of department, who told me no one expects them to do anything. I have been told that I can issue detentions but they won't come, and that I can't phone their parents. Has anyone got any suggestions about what I should do? I do not want to be a weak teacher or fail in my responsibilities.

What you said

I don't know what your subject is but would it be possible to do a project with them? Maybe they could work in small groups to produce a presentation and you could offer a prize for the best one?


The expert view

If more parents knew about this kind of attitude, there would be a big reaction in the newspapers. Can you believe that a school would just give up on its children like this? Sure, what they are saying makes perfect sense - but we are paid to do more than simply babysit students; we have to have high expectations for them every day up until the moment they leave.

Your strategy has to be to insist on full school support. Follow the behaviour policy to the letter and expectdemand the support. Remind line management what the policy is. Have children who fail to comply removed. If you can't motivate them in the short term, you can at least present them with an immediate inconvenience (hassle from senior staffyourself and so on) to the point where they consider it easier to work than not. We are paid to believe in students even when they have given up. If we give up, God help them.

Tom Bennett's latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum.

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