The Behaviour Question

Tom Bennett

I'm new to my school and I have a very challenging group of pupils, who are three grades below where they should be because they did not have a constant teacher last year. This year they are switched off and feel they don't have to do any work. I have tried positive praise and rewards systems, followed school behaviour policy, used pupil contracts, brought in the senior leadership team and set them achievable work. But it has been to no avail, even if I am told that they behave better for me than other staff.

What you said


This class is understandably demoralised with your subject. You need to cheat. Just a little. Give them an end-of-unit test (i.e. not a real test). Before you give it to them, teach them a revision lesson "to the test", giving them that little bit more of an advantage. They won't do brilliantly, but they will get something that might just make them question their own conviction that they will fail.


With a class like yours I start with: a five- to 10-minute explanation (the shorter the better); a 10-minute task (closed questions); and answers on the board (two minutes to selfpeer-assess).

The expert view

I feel your pain. You have not been there long so there is one ingredient missing from this potion: time. If they are bottom set, mucked around, mucking about and just mucky, then they are in a raw state of studenthood closer to ectoplasm than clay. They will take a while to mould into the right shape.

This means that you need to make a few adjustments mentally in order not to go completely gaga ...

1. Acknowledge that this will take time and there is only so much you can do. If they are not perfect for you, then that is just the way they are for the moment. Do not beat yourself up. This is not your fault. Does a doctor blame himself for patients being sick? He does not. He gives them medicine. You are in the medicine phase.

2. Persist with the things you have been trying so far. They all seem sound to me. What you must not do is lose your nerve and stop what you are doing. With some classes, it can take all year to get the ship turned around. Progress is often glacial.

It is obvious that this school does not have the strongest of systems. Very well - in such sloppy institutions, the teachers have to make it work for themselves or get out. That means using the school system as much as you can, doing call-outs when necessary, escalating sanctions up the line management structure and calling home as often as you must. This might mean every day for six months, and if it does then so be it.

The path you are on is not pretty, but it is the right approach. There are no sexy shortcuts, no tricks and tips. There is only persistence, and the continued development of a relationship of trust and discipline with these children, until they believe in you as an authority and someone they can rely on. Good luck.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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