12th March 2010 at 00:00
The problem: I teach a 15-year-old girl who is very unpleasant and makes personal comments to me. I'm an experienced teacher and I've gone through all of the school's official channels, but to no avail. What should I do?


"She needs to be polite to you, and if she chooses not to be polite or respectful to you, she will be placing herself on the progression of sanctions your school has for such behaviour. Meeting with the parents is also an avenue I would try."

Lazy daisy

"I wonder whether she can sense that it is getting to you, which may fuel it further. My advice would be that in all dealings with her you firmly, but matter of factly, point out why her behaviour is unacceptable and what consequences she will face should the behaviour persist."


"Call me unprofessional, but you need to play her at her own game. Divide and conquer!"



Being a teacher is stressful and demanding because we give of ourselves daily in so many ways - we put ourselves on the line and that makes us vulnerable. We care about our pupils and when they respond negatively it is hurtful.

Do not make the situation worse by responding in kind. This is often what children try to provoke - they love the drama and excitement of a confrontation.

You say you have gone through all the official channels to no avail and you sound almost as if you feel bullied. You certainly could be a victim of bullying; does the school's anti-bullying policy cover a situation like this? I would certainly approach this in that spirit. I would suggest an experienced pastoral teacher talks to the girl and to you. Perhaps someone could observe a lesson with the specific intention of monitoring the interaction between the two of you - the class would not know any different.

There could be any number of reasons why the girl is reacting to you like this: perhaps you remind her of someone she doesn't like, or a throwaway remark from you weeks ago hurt her. If an outsider can pinpoint the problem, there should be a way forward, but it needs a calm and non-confrontational discussion. The girl should be challenged about her behaviour, but in a supportive and constructive manner.

If official channels are not working, try talking to some of the best teachers in your school. I would hope that your colleagues could support you and help to find a resolution to the problem; if not, I would advise asking your union for support and advice.

Ultimately the school should be trying to support you and diagnose the issues with the girl.

Hilary French is head at Central Newcastle High School and chairman of the North East region of the Girls' School Association ( Join the debate at



- Draft in help from an independent party such as a pastoral teacher.

- Check your school's anti-bullying policy.

- Challenge her behaviour in a constructive manner.


- Respond in kind. She will love the drama of a confrontation.

- Take it personally. She is deliberately trying to make you feel vulnerable.

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