Tales from new teachers

tough love

The problem

I had a lovely class during my last teaching placement but there was one child who constantly misbehaved. Initially, I thought this was simply his normal behaviour. Then I discovered that he wasn't like that with his usual class teacher and that I was the issue. I was trying to build relationships with all the children but he took up a huge amount of my time. Throughout the day, I gave him warnings but he continued to shout out and misbehave. I could see the other children were frustrated. Something had to change. Over the weeks, I realised that his demanding behaviour came from a lack of self-esteem. But being soft and trying to encourage rather than punish had not worked.

The options

At first, I planned pair or group work so that he had support around him. Sometimes this worked really well. But it depended on his mood, who he was sitting with, the lesson, the time of the day - the list went on. He was very unpredictable and his mood could switch at any minute, especially when faced with something new.

Next, I tried to speak to him alone but he couldn't vocalise why he was struggling, which made it more difficult. I found myself saying, "I can't help you if you can't tell me what's wrong."

Finally, I admitted defeat and asked the class teacher for advice. She told me to take a firm approach. She explained that he didn't behave like that with her because he knew he couldn't get away with it. I found it hard to be firm but I knew I had no choice. When I saw the teacher in action, I made a mental note of how to do it: instead of constantly reminding him not to shout out, I got tough with sanctions. But I also remembered to keep encouraging him.

The result

Eventually one afternoon, I took him to see the headteacher. It was close to home time but I knew I had to follow through with my sanction or I would regret it. Lo and behold, the next day was great. I was relieved that my strategy had paid off.

Things improved slightly over time and we began to build a relationship, which did make a difference. I remained tough, although he still tested me on occasion and his good behaviour was fairly short-lived. I tried to take account of his self-esteem and really praised him where I could. In conjunction with a few more trips to the headteacher and several quiet talks, I felt we had overcome the steepest part of that learning curve.

The writer is training to be a primary school teacher in England

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