The Behaviour Question

Tom Bennett

I am a graduate teacher who has come to teaching after working as a graphic designer and art lecturer. I made a stupid joke recently about how I got a scratch on my eyebrow (I actually ran into a door, so I felt a bit foolish). When a group of my students asked about the scratch, I told them my husband had beaten me up - I quickly told them it was a joke. How do I cope with teaching and discipline issues when other teachers do not provide much in the way of support or advice?

What you said


The children have probably forgotten about it by now. If any of them do bring the matter up again, act surprised that they believed you, and either tell them the truth or make up another, more outlandish story. Leave them confused as to the real reason for just a short time, then tell them the truth so that you are not seen as someone who is deceitful but as someone who likes a joke.


I wish that kind of daft remark was the stupidest thing I had done as a new teacher. Actually, I wish it was the stupidest thing I had done this year as a not-at-all-new teacher. Stop worrying - it is the end of the year and you, like us all, are knackered. Everything seems worse than it is.

The expert view

Do not worry too much about this comment; it was a bit silly to say it to a new group with whom you have not yet developed a strong relationship, because it sends the wrong signals about you - it makes you seem more pally and matey and intimate than is helpful at this stage.

But if that is all you have said then don't sweat it. Just make sure that the rest of the communications you have with them are professional and rather more formal for a good while. At first, pupils need to see you in an utterly unambiguous light of teacher; professional; adult. They do not need a pal, they need someone to tell them what to do. Muddying that with personal comments, however witty, is a recipe for trouble, unless they are particularly great children.

What concerns me is that you do not feel you have anyone you can bring even this up with in your own school, a point you also raise at the end of your message. And that to me is the real problem.

Expectations of more mature teachers are often unrealistic. I came into the profession in my early thirties, and I know that people just expected me to be able to deal with large groups of pupils. But I couldn't. And you should not feel bad if it is difficult for you at times. It is difficult for all of us, believe me.

You may not have an official mentor, but that does not mean you should work alone. I suggest you find a teacher with more experience and ask if they can help by coaching you a little. Observe them teaching your difficult classes. Get them to observe you. Have a chat about it afterwards. Then try out some strategies and repeat the process. Proactivity like this makes you a better teacher, not a worse one. The very best of luck to you.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum.

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Tom Bennett

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