The Behaviour Question

14th October 2011 at 01:00

I've started at a new academy and I'm finding my Year 9, 10 and 11 classes very tough. They are the survivors from the two old schools that combined to form the academy. Has anyone got any advice on how I can get the pupils to settle down and listen? They're in a seating plan and I usually use a countdown, which is effective, and anyone left talking gets warnings, but when it's pretty much the whole class I find I'm getting stuck.

What you said


I would ask senior staff to come and sit in on lessons for a while. They can read the riot act and then say they will pop back in 10 minutes - and will expect to hear there has been an improvement. Use senior staff to your full advantage. Then you can teach fabulous lessons and they can gradually withdraw.


It takes persistence, time and support. Don't talk over them. Wait for quiet. Keep pupils behind if they won't be quiet. Not much learning will take place while you establish that if they don't listen there will be a consequence, but it will be worth it in the long run.

The expert view

Whether you realise it or not, you sound like you are doing exactly what needs to be done. Lots of teachers feel they must be awful because classes are not behaving for them, when what they need to realise is that the classes aren't behaving for them yet. These things take time and patience. If you stray from the path you're on, you will undo a lot of the good work you have already done.

There are several factors that are conspiring against you: your relative newness (this is a huge factor); the legacy of the department (you're starting, frankly, from scratch); the legacy of the school merger (this is an unsettled, anxious time for many); and your own anxiety. Pupils can pick up on any uncertainty.

That's the bad news. But the good news is that you're already on track to sort it out. For a start, you have a seating plan in place, something that I find essential in tricky rooms. You have countdowns, warnings and presumably sanctions in place. The longer you persist in your strategy, the more results you will see.

I have a few additional suggestions. When you're calling for quiet, name the ones who are still talking, saying something like, "Bob's still talking ..." Praise the ones who are helping: "Thank you, Shirley." Micro gestures mean you can reward and sanction throughout the lesson, reinforcing what you need by tiny cues.

Be consistent. If children are still talking over you by the time you need to move on, record their names and make sure something happens to them. (I prefer a controversial new technique called "detentions".) Don't be shy of using the call-out system either, although I would reserve it for escorting out the worst offenders.

With time, you will need to use these strategies less and less. It's hard work, but the prize will be excellent boundaries, and lessons where they learn and you can teach.

Tom Bennett is the author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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