29th May 2009 at 01:00

Problem: My pupils are really over-familiar. They see me in the corridor and call me mate or blood. How should I respond, or should I ignore it?

Julie* teaches English at a comprehensive school in the South West. When pupils call her mate in class she pulls them up on it every time. "Whether they're asking a question or responding to behaviour being challenged, I'll say something like: `I think you need to rephrase that. I am your teacher and I expect you to refer to me as Miss'."

She adopts a stern but good-humoured approach. "I work hard to develop good relationships with pupils, so I can use that to my advantage." But there are lines that cannot be crossed and she believes over-familiarity ought not to be tolerated by staff.

"I don't want pupils to think of me as a friend - it compromises the relationship that exists where I can tell them what to do and they do it. My pupils do discuss things with me and share parts of their lives, but they do that with me as an interested teacher, rather than their mate," Julie says.

But what can be deemed unacceptable behaviour by one teacher may be seen as harmless by another, suggests Colin, head of drama at a secondary school in Staffordshire. "The familiarity debate is specific to individual teachers and their styles. I go to football matches, netball matches and so on - seeing the pupils outside the class and getting to know them. The only time familiarity becomes a problem is when the line between teacher and friend or peer is blurred."

If you think the pupil is being purposefully rude or disrespectful, the best approach is often to ignore them, according to Tom Bennett, a teacher at Raine's Foundation School in London, who hosts the behaviour forum on The TES website ( "If they see it gets your goat, they will repeat the process until you go mad. If you don't feed their pleasure they'll quickly tire. If we respond to their comments, then we've allowed them to set the agenda."

But if the rudeness worsens and comments become unbearable, take the culprits aside, one by one, and explain that it's inappropriate and that more of the same will result in a punishment, he advises.

If the remark comes from a big group of pupils, it's often unwise to march up to them and read them the riot act, he says. "All they have to do is plead innocence and you have nothing to use against them. And showing them your ire in that circumstance where you are clearly helpless will only underline and emphasise your impotence."

In this situation it would be better to take them aside individually and tell them that there will be consequences for those caught disrespecting you. Mr Bennett says it's important to get the tone right: "Too ill- tempered and you will give them the reaction they want - they will secretly hug each other and hail the culprit as a hero. They may even start trying to outdo each other in audacity. On the other hand, if you're not serious enough, they'll smell weakness."

One teacher on The TES behaviour forum suggests carrying a notebook and pen that you can whip out when a pupil makes an inappropriate comment. Separate them from their friends, write down their name and say why the behaviour is inappropriate.

If you struggle to identify the culprit and want to deal with their behaviour, try asking onlookers. Make a note of the nicest ones and ask them who made the remark, says Mr Bennett. "But remember never to reveal your sources, and be discreet about how you get the information."

* Not her real name

Next week: Dealing with gifted pupils

DO .

. Consider ignoring them - sometimes a reaction is exactly what they're after.

. If it came from a group, take them aside one by one.


. March up to a group when you don't know who the culprit is. You're unlikely to get to the bottom of it.

. Be too ill-tempered in front of a group - all it will do is feed their fun.

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