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Neither a performer nor a prison guard be

When pupils act up in the classroom, teachers can get the blame for failing to ensure their lessons are sufficiently "engaging".

This is a bit like blaming a mugging victim for chatting on a mobile phone in the street at night. Yes, they may have made themselves a more obvious target, but that does not make them the instigator of the attack. The victim was not "asking for it". The fault lies with the perpetrator.

So it is understandable that teachers can get frustrated when their teaching is singled out as the cause for their pupils' misbehaviour.

A further problem is that when teachers are told they must ensure their lessons are "engaging", it can sound as if they are being expected to provide "edutainment". And some lessons inevitably won't be interactive, all-singing, all-dancing shows. One teacher recently described in TES how she had received a dressing-down after an observation because all her students had been working on their own in silence. The fact that it was a practice AS-level exam did not seem enough to satisfy the observer from her school's leadership team.

Given these annoyances, it may be tempting to take a hard-line, authoritarian stance. Forget whether students are engaged - the curriculum is not there to make them happy. Just line them up in rows and get on with preparing them for academically rigorous world-class tests. If they don't like it, tough. If they dare to act up then work your way through the sanction list until they can be booted out.

Of course, the real answer is to avoid either extreme. You are not an entertainer there for your pupils' amusement, but nor can you ignore the fact that the more pupils enjoy a lesson and are enthralled by it, the more it is likely to stick and inspire them to learn even more.

The schools that have succeeded in engaging the disengaged have adopted strict monitoring systems to track pupils at risk of dropping out, but they have also had to consider how they can make the curriculum more appealing to those young people (pages 4-7).

Even traditionalists should recognise the benefits of pragmatism over asking for trouble.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro

michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.

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