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The Quick Q&A: how to tackle student PDA

Teenagers partaking in public displays of affection is a common and troublesome part of school life – and one that Katie White has been trying to tackle

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Teenagers partaking in public displays of affection is a common and troublesome part of school life – and one that Katie White has been trying to tackle

You are making that face again, what’s the problem? 

Showy teen relationships: yuk.

It sounds like you have been witnessing that staple of the school day: PDA in the corridors… is it really that bad?

Yes. Absolutely. There are plenty of teachers in relationships who manage to not launch at each other’s tonsils in between period 1 and 2. But, to be honest, we have no clear rules about it. I would argue it is disruptive and inappropriate behaviour...

That’s a good place to start when you intervene: it is about teaching appropriateness of public and private. 

OK, but how exactly should I approach it – separating them immediately, asking them to come and see me later, wait until they have finished? 

I find humour works best, mixed in with a gentle reprimand. Think embarrassing ‘Dad joke’ followed up with a gentle explanation of where and when it would be more appropriate to partake in such behaviour.  

I can see why that might work for some, but what if they don't stop? Some of the teens seem completely unembarrassed and carry on. 

Be firmer, if necessary. Follow your behaviour policy as if this was any other disruptive behaviour and escalate to tutors or heads of year, even parents and carers if needs be.

OK, let’s say I solve that issue. But what about the non-physical PDA – the endless chatter about relationships and its knock-on issues for learning and, on occasion, safeguarding?

You need to show that private lives need to stay outside the lesson by setting relentlessly high expectations of behaviour standards. Model to them what you expect them to do – i.e., you don't talk about your personal relationships during lessons; ergo, neither should they. If you spend time explaining how your lovely husband helped you create all today’s resources, then don’t expect them not to chat about Simon from 11B. 

That might work when relationships are going well, but relentless high expectations and modelling don’t tend to help when the PDA turns into PDB – public displays of break-up. In terms of lesson disruption, PDB can be worse than PDA as so many problems can occur: students taking sides, highly emotional protagonists, lack of concentration, the horrible gossip machine gearing up… 

I think this is probably beyond the role of you as an individual. These problems will be happening across all their classes. You need to log the incidents, deal with them as you would normal behaviour issues, but report everything to the pastoral team. 

And if a teenager leaves the room in a highly emotional state? 

Let them go. Inform the pastoral team of what has happened. Ensure the member of staff on duty knows where he or she is and let them deal with it. You have the rest of the class to look after. 

All this makes me think we should probably have some sort of policy for PDA in schools...

In my experience, that would be unnecessary. PDA is essentially poor behaviour, so it should not need its own policy. And the vast majority of teens will respond to your first intervention through embarrassment at being caught.  

OK, and what if everything you have detailed here fails?

Then just remember the immortal words of two of my Year 7s on a residential trip to France who summed up just how temporary these things tend to be:

Student 1: “So, I heard that you are going out with Amanda.”
Student 2:  “Errrrrr, guess so.”
Student 1: “What does that mean exactly?”
Student 2: “It is like being friends, except now we don't talk to each other anymore.”
Student 1: “Ah."
Student 2: “Yeah, I think will break up so we can be friends again.”
Student 2: “Cool.”

Katie White is a teacher at Kingsbridge Community College, Devon

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