Don't do what I did - I prepared for a fight but was cut down to size

17th July 2009 at 01:00

Attack, they say, is the best form of defence. But it proved to be my biggest mistake when I started teaching.

I'm slightly built and decided that I would not be intimidated by any pupils in my first job. I knew some might try it on, but I was determined to impose myself on them from the start. So when I walked into my first lesson, I was pumped up and ready to take on anyone. As is usually the case, there are no shortage of takers when someone enters a classroom with such body language.

A bunch of lads were lounging around at the back and I told them to take their seats. They did so, but with exaggerated slowness, and I thought: "Right lads, I'm going to mark your cards." I thought I would target the biggest. During the class I watched him like a hawk, daring him to step out of line. I caught him in mid-conversation with his neighbour and I steamed in. I launched a tirade of rather too personal abuse at him, and he burst into tears.

This was not what I was expecting. I sent him to welfare, whereupon his neighbour told me, publicly and coolly, that the lad's mum was in hospital "getting chemotherapy". I started the class at 5ft 6in but quickly lost the 5ft. I felt terrible, and rightly so. I later checked out the pupil's situation; it was true.

I'd lost the class for good. No matter what else I did that year, the pupils were never going to play ball with me, and I can't blame them. I lost some credibility in the staffroom too. The head of pastoral care and year group leader had quiet words with me.

In discussion with the former, I said I was taking no prisoners. He gave me invaluable advice: school is not a war zone and even if it were, "taking no prisoners" is a war crime. I've never made that mistake again.

This column will return in September. Email your NQT experiences to Every one we publish will receive pound;50 in Mamp;S vouchers.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today