10th April 2009 at 01:00

Problem: One of my pupils is bullying me. He's at least a foot taller than me and towers over me, refusing to do work that I have set him. I feel threatened - what should I do?

This pupil may be anxious for a number of reasons. He may be struggling with classwork and afraid of being embarrassed in front of his peers. There may be problems at home. Or he may simply be testing you to see what your boundaries are.

According to George Matthews, founder and director of Team-Teach, which provides training courses in positive handling techniques, the first step in this situation should be to take a step back, assume a professional mode and say something like: "I can see you're upset, let's see what we can do."

He adds: "Allow them to let off steam verbally and try to be a friend to them - tell them you're not their enemy. If your initial reaction is to stamp down and bark orders, it's likely they will move to the next level."

Sometimes referred to as teacher-targeted bullying, whether verbal or physical, it's a complex problem that can affect a teacher's performance and morale as well as their pupils' learning.

Dealing with it as it happens will depend on the scenario and on how much experience and training you have had. But keeping an open-door policy, where teachers occasionally pop into each other's lessons, can deter pupils from this sort of behaviour as well as preventing the teacher from feeling isolated.

As one teacher suggests on The TES online forum: "I had a nightmare of a year with one class. What got me through was the support of colleagues who delivered on their promise to drop by on a regular basis to observe and intervene until the kids got the message that I was not alone."

But the consensus among behaviour experts is that prevention is the key. And this is best achieved through preparation, on the teacher's part and on the part of the school.

Mr Matthews explains: "Schools should identify pupils who have the potential to misbehave in this way from the outset and prepare staff to deal with them. If the school has a positive handling plan in place, staff are likely to feel more comfortable in doing their job."

According to John Bayley, a behaviour consultant with a background in working at pupil referral units, when pupils and teachers get into disputes of this kind, it is almost always because the school is poorly organised. "If you have the right planning and policies in place, the chance of such problems arising is minimised," he says. Assertiveness training will help the teacher to learn how to tell pupils to back off, he adds.

The National Union of Teachers offers similar advice. Amanda Brown, head of employment conditions, says teachers should be prepared - through the school having a behaviour management policy and through the teacher having received training - on how to handle a pupil like this.

Mr Matthews' company recommends that teachers working in mainstream schools should have at least six hours' relevant training in dealing with this sort of behaviour. "We provide people on our courses with verbal scripts to help them take charge. If a child is trying to wind the adult up, they're often looking for signs of weakness. The teacher needs to realise the game that's being played and why the child is doing what they're doing," he says

DO ...

... Deal with the situation immediately - tell your colleagues, head of department or headteacher.

... Know what your school expects you to do in this situation.

... Have an open-door policy and encourage other teachers to drop in on your lessons.

DON'T ...

... Take it personally.

... Keep it to yourself.

... Presume your ability to manage behaviour is at fault.

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