Behaviour therapy: How NQTs can tackle the archetypal offenders

Classroom management can cause newly qualified teachers to lose sleep – or to have nightmares about the serial offenders. Teacher Tom Starkey offers tips and techniques for dealing with the typical troublemakers

TES Professional

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Behaviour issues can affect you at any point in your career, but at the start you are more vulnerable. You may consider yourself ill equipped in the battle to ensure your classroom is a place where effective teaching can take place, especially if your training provider and school fail to attach enough importance to training you how to manage students’ behaviour.

Part of the problem is how we talk about behaviour. We refer to “challenging behaviour”, implying there is only one problem to be overcome – a large problem but nevertheless a singular one. Once it’s cracked we can get on with what we’re there for, surely? But given the great range of unappealing actions evident in the classroom, perhaps “behaviours” is a more appropriate term.

There is a spectrum of misdemeanours committed by pupils, from vaguely annoying to jaw-droppingly callous, stupid, ugly and beyond. Not all of these can be treated in the same way because they bear little relation to each other.

So to give you a head start in dealing with this smorgasbord of unacceptable behaviours, let’s look at some of those that can be considered archetypal:

Behaviour therapy Tom Starkey

The Incessant Chatterer

You will come across a lot of these. They will drive you barmy. Worse, they can be hugely disruptive to learning. While this behaviour issue is supposedly “low level”, it can still leave a lesson drowning in the culprit’s unfettered stream of consciousness. You have a couple of options:

1. Take the student to one side and explain to them that their opinion is always valid but not at the expense of moving the lesson forward. It could be the case that they don’t realise what they’re doing, so pointing out their behaviour and giving them a chance to amend it might be beneficial.


2. Shut them down. Fast. It may be the case that at the start of the lesson, you gave them a little leeway – we all want students to feel they can express themselves. But when this takes the form of a breathlessly off topic monologue, you need to put a stop to it early – after all, you’ve got stuff to do. A quick “Thank you, we might pick that up later” will suffice, and then move swiftly on to the next activity. Impolite? Perhaps, but this is school, not a debutante ball.


Behaviour therapy Tom Starkey

The Instigator

Too smart to be at the centre of any trouble but always there on the periphery when things kick off. Master of the wind-up, the unkind word or the exaggeration of an imagined slight. Never in the thick of it but often the cause. How do you deal with someone who instigates rather than perpetrates?

1. If there are incidents that have been caused owing to malicious prompting by a student, it is perhaps best not to concentrate on that student at all. Discuss the incident with those involved and get them to try to understand that there may have been a certain amount of manipulation in the run-up. This may help them to build a defence against future attempts at antagonism.


2. As this student doesn’t like getting into trouble but loves it when others do, make it explicit that if there is so much as a hint that they were involved in the run-up to a future incident, they will share responsibility. Let them know that you know what they’re doing and that you’ll be looking out for it.

Read the full list of tips in the New Teachers guide in the 11 September edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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