Don't lose control

17th March 2006 at 00:00
When pupils are defiant, it's a test of your nerve. Paul Blum offers some practical advice

how can you keep your cool and deliver the effective pupil rebuke without screaming your head off? Most teachers' biggest fear is mismanaging behaviour and creating a situation where they lose control of pupils - especially when a colleague is watching your lesson.

You know when you could have handled pupil defiance effectively. But, instead, you stiffen and have a confrontation because you feel you're being judged. So how can you, a new teacher, sidestep confrontation and win the exchange without losing your decorum?

There is no easy answer, but the sensible rule of thumb is to accept that you will learn from your mistakes. Try to develop your sense of timing.

Some situations require a stern response. The pupils and your colleagues expect it from you, but you must be careful how you deliver it. It's much better to pick off individual pupils who challenge your authority, then get them away from their peers - an audience they will be anxious to impress.

Use your knowledge of the group. It's easier to choose the most compliant individual, who is most likely to do as he or she is asked. One obedient student complying will encourage others to follow suit.

In a classroom or in a corridor, back off a bit after you've made a request. Pupils need a little time and space to save face before they follow your instructions.

Watch your own body language as you issuea command. Don't try masquerading as that head of year who has been at the school for 10 years. There's nothing worse than copying somebody else and falling flat on your face.

Be conscious of relaxing your shoulders so that you reduce any sense of panic, inadequacy and frustration you might feel on the inside. It's always better not to shout but to repeat an instruction calmly but purposefully while standing your ground.

You are likely to perform your telling off better if you keep a sense of humour and coax pupils along. Making light of a situation helps both teachers' and pupils' demeanour, so stay relaxed. This isn't the same as giving in or condoning unacceptable behaviour. If a pupil continues to blank you and show complete dissent, warn them that there will be consequences for failing to follow your instructions. But it's best to not to be too specific about what they will be.

Follow-up and consequences are a vital factor in any effective telling off.

Follow-up takes the pressure off you to create an on- the-spot, do-or-die confrontation and win it. It means you can let a pupil disobey you, ignore you or simply storm off because you know you can find them later and deal with them.

It is essential that pupils know you will always follow things through. Get them later that day or at the next available opportunity. When you meet up with them, it will be at a time of your choice and in circumstances that you've chosen and planned for. Be prepared with the arguments you will use to take the moral, intellectual and emotional high ground. Be prepared to take them on away from their mates.

If you are still worried that they are likely to be unrepentant and abusive, make sure you have reinforcements with you when you chase them up - such as your head of department or the pupil's tutor. It's good for pupils to see their teachers working as a team.

Paul Blum is a senior manager at Islington Green school and author of 'Improving Low Reading Ages in the Secondary School' (Routledge)

How to keep your cool

* Don't jump in feet first and stoke up a big confrontation. You are just as likely to lose it as win it.

* Make sure pupils who have been rude or defiant to you do not get away with it. Choose your home ground , not theirs. That prevents them playing to the gallery in front of their peer-group.

* Follow-up actions are time-consuming but they pay dividends over the course of your first year.

* Don't let pupils go unchecked. If you do, it's as bad as losing a confrontation. You'll use your credibility in front of other pupils.

* Use the school systems and your colleagues to help you enforce discipline. When you are new, other teachers expect you to seek their help.

It is a sign of strength not of weakness .

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