Get advice and crack discipline

5th October 2001 at 01:00
You are part of a team, so call on your colleagues if you are having problems

For many probationer teachers, the exciting though scary highs of the honeymoon period with your classes may now have developed into a roller coaster ride plunging you from marital bliss to irreconcilable differences and back up again, all depending on the time of day, the weather and a thousand other variables.

If truth be told, the first couple of months of your teaching career are a peaktrough experience. You feel you have one group of pupils sussed only to find them behaving like gremlins the next day. Meanwhile the child you expected all the trouble from works like a wee Trojan and then thanks you for your help.

It is an assault course but you know it is also what is great about being a teacher. Children are infinitely unpredictable.

Last month I talked about positive pupil management and the challenges of dealing with low-level disruption. Today I want to look at the other side of that coin: what to do with the group or the individuals who refuse to comply with all the usual sanctions and how to bring them into the fold.

Alas, there is no panacea but since running away is not an option either, here are some ideas to help you make it through those long, lonely last lessons of the day.

First, remember to follow the school guidelines on dealing with difficult behaviour. This generally includes referring the situation, sometimes immediately, to a senior member of staff, usually the principal teacher of your subject in the first instance and then the year head (who, by the way, will probably have had prior dealings with the individuals in question).

Documenting the behaviour shown is often the next step.

Remember that you are part of a team of experts. Your principal teacher, other colleagues in the department, guidance and learning support staff as well as senior management and behaviour support experts have, between them, decades of experience, so pick their brains. It is a sign of strength rather than weakness to admit you are having difficulties with certain pupils, so explain what is going on and ask for some suggestions. These people have an overview you won't always have, so seek them out and establish a strategy.

Finally, remember the child behind the misbehaviour and try to work out the cause of it. For example, is it a cry for attention or an attempt to control. If so, why? Is it a response to peer pressure, a cover for unhappiness or an inability to access the curriculum work?

Some pupils don't know how to behave well as no one has ever taught them. Others have gained more satisfaction from misbehaving. That is where you come in. In the same way that you teach your pupils how to understand and master the complexities of your subject, so you need to show certain pupils how to behave well, making what is implicit to most, explicit to them. That means consistency in your approach, common sense rules and boundaries, short-term, achievable targets, lots of feedback and clear consequences for both bad and good behaviour (being proactive, rather than either aggressive or passive).

Got all that? I know, easier said than done. If Rome wasn't built in a day then you can't expect to have every pupil sussed before mid-term break.

By this stage, you are probably shattered but do hang in there. You are making progress every day so take a deep breath, lean back and learn to enjoy the ride.

Diane Allison is author of 'The Year of Living Dangerously: A Survival Guide for Probationer Teachers' (Edinburgh, pound;4.99) and teaches in Midlothian

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