Don't start a fire with a simple question

27th July 2007 at 01:00
There are seemingly "trivial" incidents in teaching that can cause so much consternation to pupils that they quickly escalate into a full-blown classroom war.

A most definite flashpoint that all teachers should be wary of is asking pupils to remove a coat. Pupils cling to their coats like comfort blankets. Girls, in particular, hold the coats in front of them, defying your exhortation to remove them. Even in summer, pupils will use the excuse that it is too cold to remove them.

Also, don't expect to see a girl pupil on her own even if what you have to say to her is private. Send for a girl and she will always come with another girl riding shotgun. Send the friend away and this causes great panic in your intended target. Her loyal companion will lurk outside the door in case you commit murder.

Then there are mobile phones, the next on my list of potential danger points. Try to confiscate one and you will be accused of stealing. Depriving pupil of their trusted phone is like losing a right arm the stress of losing out on all those missed trivial text messages.

Taking a seat is also likely to cause World War 3. Even the most placid pupils can be moved to rage should anyone sit in what they regard as their own. Cries of "He's in my place" require an immediate, firm diplomacy and intervention from the teacher so that relationships are quickly stabilised.

Mispronouncing a pupil's name is a gaffe most likely to engender a hostile response. You will quickly be corrected by the pupil with an emphatic sneer suggesting that you should be able to read as you are a teacher. Immediately, put a phonetic pronunciation in your mark-book repeating the mistake is a heinous crime likely to drive the pupil to apoplexy.

Is your class compliant and placid? It soon won't be if you decide to read out the marks gained by your pupils in a test or exam. "I don't want my mark," "Don't read them out, sir," "Can I come up to see mine, sir?" will fill the air. Even the good pupils don't want their marks as they will be shown up.

The one thing a teacher must never do is "show a pupil up". To ask a pupil to read aloud to the class or to take part in a form assembly is likely to rouse passions to such an extent that mayhem might ensue.

Experience has taught me that these factors are the ones most likely to lead to conflict between teacher and pupil. They are all relatively trivial in this age of challenging behaviour. But be warned they are all sent to test your authority.

Jim Goodall

is a retired science teacher from Torfaen

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