Dear Ted

21st October 2005 at 01:00
As a female secondary teacher who is 5ft 2in tall, I often feel physically intimidated by the older boys. How can I restore my authority?

Ted says

Height is not always the advantage or disadvantage it may appear to be.

There are tall, impressive looking hulks who can't keep order and shorter teachers who have children eating out of their hands. That said, it is not unknown for some of the more uncouth Year 10 and 11 boys, who may be close on six foot tall, to tower over smaller teachers in a deliberate attempt to intimidate them; shouting at their navel may not be the answer.

The usual issues apply here. If you can establish good relationships and do interesting activities in your lessons, there is no great incentive for the boys to embarrass you. However, you may still find it a problem with pupils who are especially crass, in which case you could have a talk with the main offenders individually.

Some teachers use humour ("You're a big lad and I don't want to have to stand on a chair to talk to you"), but others find this difficult. There might be a year or form tutor who could raise the matter on your behalf, if you find it difficult, though it is usually best to tackle it yourself.

Psychologically, it might be best occasionally to invite them to sit down, so that when you talk to them (in your best "I'm a reasonable person"

voice), you are actually higher up than they are.

Best of all would be to involve the boys in planning lesson ideas with you, so they feel more on the same side, not in the opposite corner. One IT teacher I know with the same problem got stroppy pupils to help plan a survey of local opinion, which was then processed as part of their GCSE work.

You say

Carry yourself in a commanding way

I am only 5ft 3in and I think the most important thing is to show that what you lack in height you have in confidence. Walk purposefully and use your voice in an authoritative manner. Wearing heels can help, and using a stance, for example hands on hips, can make you appear bigger and help you feel less intimidated.

Nicola Hird, Exeter

Take up singing and martial arts

I am also a small female secondary teacher, even smaller than you at five foot nothing. I wish this issue had been addressed in teacher training. We small women have a doubly tough job asserting our authority. However, it can be done. I know these methods work because when pupils see me next to other colleagues lined up for a school photo, they say they never realised how small I am.

Anything that builds up the power and range of your voice is a must; singing is excellent, acting too. Physical activities that involve conflict give you valuable practice at standing your ground. I started to learn tae kwon do at age 35, and it gave me more confidence than I could have believed possible. Small women can't afford to slouch; I would recommend yoga, but others have used pilatesAlexander technique. How we dress is important too. For school I always wear formal, dark clothes and would recommend avoiding any "fun" styles, colours or patterns of dress.

Normal-sized people can be only too ready to patronise us smaller ones - don't make it easy for them.

Helen Golden, Essex

Put the problem in perspective

I am 5ft 2in tall and have taught for 20 years. I was inspired by my head of house at school, who was under 5ft but could demand full attention in assembly. In my first years of teaching I had several tall lads in my group and I found the solution was to get them to sit down. We then had some good conversations.

If standing, do not get too close so that you feel like you are looking up; step back a bit to reduce the angle and make it feel more comfortable.

Remember that in the end you will win, and if they misbehave you have sanctions that you can use.

Moira Saunders, King's Lynn

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