A violent incident could be one of the most daunting situations a NQT will deal with all year. And a recent study by the NASUWT teaching union suggests that almost half of trainees are dissatisfied with the training they received on dealing with disruptive behaviour and over a third say they are not ready to deal with verbal aggression.
Camilla Jones*, an NQT at an inner-city secondary, recently had an eye-opening experience. "My lesson had finished and I had kept behind one boy to talk about his tardiness when his friend barged through the door," Miss Jones says.
"I immediately walked over and calmly asked the boy to close my door. However, my dulcet tones did not have the required effect - this boy put his foot in front of the door and looked me straight in the eyes and emphatically stated, 'No!'"
The boy began to shout aggressively at Miss Jones. "It wasn't the shouting that upset me, it was the way in which he completely ignored me as if I didn't exist," she says. "That was when I realised that my teacher training had not addressed the issue of pupils who have no qualms about threatening teachers.
"Perhaps training providers don't want to scare off prospective teachers with stories of pupils who will not be influenced by traditional behaviour strategies," she says. "There may be no easy fix, but NQTs should not have to feel vulnerable when these situations arise."
New teachers should consider their desired outcome before responding to a violent situation, says Anna Carlile, lecturer in inclusive education at Goldsmiths, University of London. Is it really necessary to prevent an angry child from leaving the room? Or would it be better in the short term to let them walk out of the door and cool down in the corridor?
"Discuss and problem-solve before trying to directly confront a violent or potentially violent situation - a teacher should first try to ignore a situation, and then to distract perpetrators," says Miss Carlile.
"If this doesn't work, find a way to remove the pupil from the area." Once the situation has calmed down, it is advisable to record the incident and report it to your immediate manager, she advises.
When addressing a violent situation in the classroom, it is important to have done the ground work to ensure that the pupils and teacher are operating in an environment of respect and empathy. "If this is the case, it is unlikely that a well-trained teacher will be hurt if they step towards the conflict and uses the proximity of their presence to de-escalate a situation," says Miss Carlile. "It is important to project your confidence in these situations and always to treat the pupils with respect and empathy."
New teachers should familiarise themselves with the law and the school's policy on hands-on touching and restraint tactics. "Reasonable force may only be used if it is commensurate with the potential outcome it is being engaged to prevent," warns solicitor Anita Chopra, an expert in education law.
However, an NQT is more likely to have to deal with the fear of violence than violence itself, concludes Miss Carlile.
"If classes are planned and delivered by teachers who respect their pupils and who command respect through an empathetic, fair approach, with content that is relevant and meaningful to pupils and is delivered in a way which is also relevant and engaging, a violent situation probably won't arise," she says.
* Name has been changed
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Familiarise yourself with the law and the school's policy on restraint tactics.
- Discuss and problem-solve before trying to directly confront a violent or potentially violent situation.
- Try to ignore the situation and to distract perpetrators before actually removing the pupil from the classroom.
- Treat the pupils with respect and empathy.
- If you plan your lessons rigorously, violence should not occur.