The Behaviour Question

18th November 2011 at 00:00

I'm an NQT and most of the children in my Year 5 class are fine. But I am having serious issues with two girls. They constantly talk and shout out, walk around the classroom, and ignore me or laugh in my face when I ask them to do something. If I punish them, it turns to moans of: "You're always picking on me - you don't punish X or Y when they do something." In one-to-one chats it's clear they know what they are doing is wrong, but they want to be the class clowns. I have had the girls removed from my class, but the head does not want me to palm them off any more.

What you said


Stop feeding these attention-seekers with discussions on their behaviour and just punish them. They are repeat offenders. Don't enter into any kind of debate with them.


If you have a teaching assistant, get them to take the girls outside and introduce the lesson topic to them separately. Without an audience, their behaviour will stop.

The expert view

Too often as teachers, we fall into the bear-trap of professionalism. We are expected to value the children as individuals with rights, feelings and autonomy, while at the same time maintaining boundaries and authority over that autonomy. Unfortunately, we cannot do both at the same time, all the time. In fact, attempting to do both is one of things that makes teaching such a difficult task at times. Remember the film 2001: A Space Odyssey? In it, HAL, the computer, goes "mad" and kills the crew he's supposed to protect. It turns out that the reason he went nuts is because he was programmed with two directly opposing primary instructions that caused a logical breakdown.

Well, that's a bit like us. On one hand you can talk to pupils about their worries and fears. And if they misbehave, you can try to understand where they are coming from, to get beneath the surface of the problem and see if you can reach out to them in a meaningful way by discussing the ramifications of their actions. You can appeal to their self-interest and attempt to persuade them how wonderful life would be if they could follow the rules and treat you and their education with respect. You can spend an hour a day working out reconciliation strategies that aim to enrich their understanding of consequence and community cohesion.

Or, on the other hand, it could be clobbering time. This sounds like one of those times. I do not mean actually clobber them, but do so with sanctions, freely administered with perfect precision, repetition and fairness, always for the same misdemeanours and as soon as possible after the offence. Separate them. Issue sanctions the very second they start to act up. And persist: most children do not have the stamina or stomach to repeatedly defy your will. Good luck.

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

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