The Behaviour Question

Tom Bennett

Three boys are making my life miserable, and one in particular. He arrives with his two 'sheep', is defiant, won't sit on his seat, picks on other pupils and makes nasty remarks. He opens the windows if it's cold and closes them if it's hot. I have tried giving out notes, detentions and sending him to management, but nothing works. I have had a lot of pupils with behavioural issues, but he is the only one I have had real trouble with. I taught him last year, but he wasn't so bad. Management is not very helpful.


I think you need to insist on some support from whoever is in charge of this year group. Log everything you have done and send it to this member of the management team. Make it clear that you have done X, Y and Z (and when) and that not only have things not improved, but he is taking other pupils along with him. You don't have to be rude or even sound as if you are complaining - I have always found it more effective if I suggest what I would like them to do. I think parents should be invited in and the boy should be present with you and a senior member of staff.

The expert view

I am really sorry to hear that you are struggling with this lad.

One thing has changed: he is older and has learned a behaviour pattern that suits him. There does not have to be a huge catalyst for this kind of change; at least not one that can be traced back to an obvious precedent.

You are right to focus on the one child - you may have three hard cases of equal density, but it is more likely that you have a leader and two henchmen. Cut off the head and the body will fall.

The key for this boy will always be sanctions, applied fairly, consistently and with rigour. You say that you have given detentions, but I wonder how consistent you have been. Is he always given the same sanction for the same thing, or is he sometimes let off? He needs to know that your electric fence is always on.

If he gets a sanction and continues to misbehave, there must be an escalation: from a half-hour detention, to an hour, to a Saturday, up to and including exclusions. This process needs to be fluid, automatic and obvious to him. He needs to see that the more he swims against your tide of disapproval, the stronger the tide grows, until it becomes untenable for him.

If you are not getting support, this is a big problem, because the last point only works when line management helps to make it happen. So speak to the people responsible and ask them what to do next, what they plan to do and when. Take a note of what they say, then if their word fails to match the world, call them out on it, politely. Ask them again - what happens next?

This boy may even be enjoying your discomfort. So keep cool, do not lose your rag - but be definite. If he acts up, he is sent out or removed, with no fuss, just cool, professional determination.

You can sort this out. It may take some time, but you can be the boss of this situation. You just need to reboot your expectations and rules a bit. You will get there.

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

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Tom Bennett

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