Join forces to take the sting out of little devils

4th July 2014 at 01:00
Sometimes the only cure for a chronic show-off is to change the way other children respond to them - so get the whole class onside

Brando pulls his balaclava down and crawls across the classroom floor, SAS-style, towards the sink. "Help! I'm dying of thirst. Give me water!" he cries. He stays like that for a while, then hauls himself to his feet and looks around.

There was, and still is, no response from the class. We carry on with our silent reading session as though nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Brando is puzzled but doesn't give up. He fills a beaker with water and holds it above his head before slowly pouring it over himself. He cackles as water trickles down his balaclava. Still no one notices him.

The continued lack of response is encouraging. Even Ryan, who is normally a slave to the dark forces of classroom mayhem, keeps his eyes firmly on his book. So far. He doesn't know it yet, but a sterner test of his character is to come.

Children like Brando, who choose to misbehave, aren't unusual. The popular view is that they are attention-seekers who, somewhere along the line, decided that negative attention was better than no attention at all. The common way of dealing with them is to ignore their bad behaviour - a punishment in itself - and to reward good behaviour generously. But although this approach works with some children, it doesn't work with them all - and it certainly doesn't work with Brando.

There are times when I feel an urge to turn into Batman and metaphorically BIFF! ZAP! WHAM! and KAPOW! the living daylights out of Brando's bad behaviour, but I know that confrontation won't work. The trouble is, it seems, neither does anything else.

He has been the arch-enemy of every teacher who has taught him, and every strategy designed to reform him has proved either ineffective or counterproductive. Reward charts and certificates have been refashioned into enemy aircraft; golden times have been reduced to base metal; home-school diaries have gone missing in action; glittery pencils have been used as weapons of class disruption. When Brando received a Sparkle Award in assembly, he celebrated by wandering the corridors with a wet-floor cone on his head.

Thankfully, in a moment of clarity, a solution came to me. I realised that it is not my attention that children like Brando crave but the attention of everyone else, especially their peers. He is in love with his own notoriety. His efforts to undermine my authority are like the Joker's efforts to engage with Batman; I am a subplot in his dastardly scheme to be our school's enfant terrible. And the only way to change his behaviour is to change the way other pupils respond to it.

Like a real-life Horrid Henry, Brando's antics are generally a great source of amusement for others. This is because no matter how polite and well-behaved students appear on the outside, lurking behind those compliant smiles is a dark desire to challenge authority. Most keep this anarchic urge hidden; there is too much at stake for them to get into serious trouble. And why risk everything when you can rebel vicariously by simply appreciating Brando's antics?

Hence, the approach described above. Shows of direct confrontation, outrageous acts of misbehaviour and displays of subversive humour are nothing without a responsive audience. Tumbleweed drifting across a silent arena when Brando's most brazen performance falls flat is his greatest nightmare - and my dream scenario.

How to make it happen

While Brando was out of class this morning, we had an important discussion. The subject was Brando's behaviour and the question was what we should do about it. Suggestions that he should be excluded, arrested or sent to a school for naughty children were considered and rejected. Finally - with a little encouragement - one child came up with a brilliant idea. What if everyone totally ignored him?

We put it into action. And, as described earlier, it was going well until Ryan faced his monumental challenge.

Brando is now in the last chance saloon. He refills the beaker and, after a moment's reflection, does the unthinkable: he empties it over Ryan's head. Brando looks at Ryan. Ryan looks at me. I try not to look at either of them. Or to laugh. Time ticks by and nothing happens. Eventually Brando walks away. I give Ryan a thumbs up. He blinks water out of his eyes and gives one back.

Two minutes later, Brando returns to his seat and I stop the timer that is counting how much off-task time he will have to make up at the end of the lesson. He has lost 12 minutes of break. Hopefully, when he does get into the playground, there will be no adoring fans waiting to welcome him. Although Ryan may be there, and possibly.BIFF! ZAP! WHAM! and KAPOW!

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England

What else?

Attention-seeking or autism? Join the debate on the TES Connect behaviour forum.


Read behaviour guru Tom Bennett's view at tesconnect.comconfrontation

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