20th July 2012 at 01:00

The problem

I have landed a permanent job in a boys' grammar school. When I last taught in a boys' school, for a year, they hated me. I struggled to be heard and the pupils made comments about how rubbish I was. I had been fine in a mixed school, and when I went on to teach in a girls' school for three months, the vice-principal said I was outstanding in every area. How can I get the boys on side?

What you said

Go in hard. Lay down your rules and stick to them rigidly right from day one. You can lighten up after a few weeks and see if they can handle it. Nothing wrong with earning a reputation as someone not to be messed with. It's much harder to start nice and then be strict when it all goes to pot. You should also go in for some observations before you start - get a feel for the place."


The expert view

While there are, undoubtedly, psychological differences between the sexes (otherwise stand-up comedy would be dead), the most important messages in behaviour management are gender neutral. Any attempt to be too clever with the following general principles usually ends up eroding their overall efficacy:

- Clear boundaries and rules, as defined by you, the authority figure.

- Clear systems of sanction and reward.

- Rigorous, just enforcement.

- Follow-up at home.

- Escalate if repeated.

- Repeat ad infinitum.

These are not exactly rocket science. If we insist on creating a taxonomy, I would say that boys prefer stronger, clearer boundaries, as creatures of hierarchy and dominance. They need to see you as top dog, as the absolute authority. I wouldn't be too pally with them. The soft approach often encourages them to see you as weak. Start strong and strict, then loosen off as the relationship develops - which might take years - and only if it can sustain the change.

You may have had more biddable children in one experience than in another. Also, new teachers often find that behaviour is poor at first, as they come to see you as an authority gradually, not instantaneously.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Post questions at

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