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The Behaviour Question

I'm moving to a new school after placements at two "strict" inner-city schools. The new school's Ofsted reports are outstanding, my current colleagues say it is good and the teachers in my department there seem genuinely caring. However, after being in the school for a day and observing a few lessons, I found the discipline and control of the kids to be much more slack than I'm used to. There was lots of low-level disruption, but only about a third of it was picked up. I don't think I could teach in an atmosphere like that, but I'm aware of the risk of seeming arrogant if I don't try to follow the school ethos. Should I take my strictness down a notch or two? Or should I be the lone teacher telling pupils to tuck their shirts in?

What you said


Children behave completely differently for different teachers. If you go in and are clear about your expectations then you'll be fine. My class is absolutely horrendous to substitutes if they are not on the ball. As for their uniform - I'd leave it. All you're going to do is sabotage relationships with pupils. It's one thing picking up on disruptive behaviour that affects learning. It's quite another to go about sorting out your own pet peeves.

The expert view

Great question: the simple answer is NO NO NO, do not go down a notch or two. As long as you work within the letter of the school behaviour policies, then I would absolutely recommend that you set your boundaries and consequences precisely as you see fit, and not based on the estimated average of the rest of the school.

Children will behave remarkably differently from class to class, from teacher to teacher. So-called "unteachables" will be compliant and earnest depending on their context. Which type of teacher do you want to be? The one for whom they bounce like beans, or the one for whom they work and learn? It is a question with an obvious answer.

If you find yourself putting noses out of joint, ask yourself the question I always return to: what kind of teacher would I like any children of mine to be taught by? A cuddly firefighter? Or a slightly strict person who helps them achieve more than they dreamed possible?

Your first responsibility is to their well-being, even if they - or worse, the school - cannot perceive it.

In your career, you will see a lot of bad teaching as well as good; well-run schools and poorly run schools. Your job, however hard, is to be the best you can be for the pupils, and for your sanity. What you do is fix the small scrap of land right in front of you - not the world, just what you can manage. That is all any of us can do.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog,, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum

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