The Behaviour Question

Tom Bennett

I'm an unqualified English teacher at an academy with challenging secondary students. I have seen that they can work well and behave with other teachers, but my nature is quite timid. Other teachers have advised me to get louder. However, I feel that when I shout more they listen less. I follow the academy's sanctions, but find it extremely hard to pick people out when it is a lot of the class. My board is constantly full of names.

What you said


I have found that frequent positive praise (praising those who are doing what you've asked rather than constantly focusing on the ones who are doing the wrong thing) can work wonders.


I'm not spending the whole lesson dealing with behaviour, so I have two "non-negotiables" - the first is that pupils do not leave their seat for any reason without permission. The second is that no one is to shout out when I am speaking.

The expert view

If the class is difficult, they do not need hugs - they need you to be a hard-ass. A loving one, but a hard-ass nonetheless.

However, you do not need to be scary either. Do you want to scare them? Could you? It sounds like scary is not an arrow in your quiver. But relax, there are other ways.

You need to get in their faces a bit more, figuratively speaking. They need to see that you have rules and you will not tolerate them being broken. That way, they will see you as an authority figure, whether you are five foot short, or as tall as a titan. Here's how:

- Set out your stall. Tell them what your rules are. You may have done so already. Remind them. Do not assume that they know how to behave. They do, but they need to know that you know.

- Simply, quietly, calmly take down the names of anyone who breaks these rules. Tell them at the end of the lesson if they have incurred a sanction. Detentions are the simplest and best option for the new teacher, plus phone calls home and lost privileges.

- Make sure they attend the sanction. If it is a detention, do not let them work it off for being good. Give them both barrels. Sanctions should deter, not mollify. If they do not attend ...

- Escalate. Use the line management structure to invoke more substantial penalties and consequences.

- Nudge line management to make sure this happens.

In 99 per cent of cases, that is all there is to it. It just takes patience and time. You will have to repeat yourself endlessly, but you will wear them down. Also, maybe park the "names on board" idea for a while. That works fine with a few naughty kids, but if there are loads then the strategy just strangles you, not them. Just take names in your notebook.

Invest the time to modify their behaviour and you will reap dividends. Get a little louder, but try not to shout unless it is just to be heard. Shouting often makes you look overwrought, so keep it in the toolkit until it is needed. It is what you do that dictates how they behave with you, not what you say or how terrifying you are. Good luck.

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

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Tom Bennett

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