I have a really good class this year - the best in the school. However, I can feel their behaviour slipping. Last year they had a fantastic teacher who only used positive behaviour management. I try really hard to be positive and not shout, but sometimes I feel like I am horrible to the children. If I'm honest, I'm disappointed that they are not as good for me as they were for her. The class contains a boy and girl who don't get on and they keep muttering about each other, which results in shouting matches. I can't get to the bottom of it because they both lie.
What you said
I wouldn't bother trying to get to the cause of it. All you will end up with is lies - a total waste of energy. Just give punishments for the slanging match. The first child who shouts out or mutters gets a warning and the class are reminded of the rule about speaking properly to each other. The next incident incurs five docked minutes of playtime, the next 10 minutes, and after that all of playtime. Simply punish the poor behaviour as it happens.
The expert view
Who gives a monkeys about the reasons? As long as you are fairly sure it is standard, playground flatulence - the normal miasma of childish belligerence and not some deeper issue of victimisation and bullying - then you can just focus on the response.
One great tip is simply to get the antagonists to wait behind after the lesson (firmly hush them when they come in kicking and fussing) and then get them to write out their complaints in great detail. Tell them you are building up a file. You are: it is called "Who gives a monkeys?". The simple act of writing everything down will tire them out unless they are really serious about being enemies, which is unlikely.
Do not worry that you are not the previous teacher. You never will be; you are yourself. Too many teachers try to use strategies that work for one but not another. This is the art and craft of teaching - learning what works for us, rather than what is supposed to work. I pop a vein every time I hear well-meaning, but essentially quite stupid, experts dictate blanket rules about behaviour for all classes, teachers and schools. The previous teacher probably had their fair share of problems at first, but over time developed a relationship with the class that meant they complied.
That is why it is often a waste of time observing a teacher with perfect behaviour management if they have had their class for several years: the hard work is in the past and the strategies are so embedded that they are invisible to the casual observer.
Do what works for you. Getting to the bottom of the problem is the least of your worries. Just stay on top of it. Your attention to the children's micro-dramas might be encouraging their misbehaviour, because they know they will get a spotlight on them. But, more likely, it is continuing because they are not getting into enough trouble for it. Positive behaviour management is a great strategy, but it is only part of the fix. Some kids, sometimes, need to see that you have got teeth.
Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. http:behaviourguru.blogspot.com
Post your questions at www.tes.co.ukbehaviour.