Mentoring badly behaved teachers

18th January 2013 at 00:00
As well as tricky children, schools also have to deal with a small minority of awkward adults, says Paul Dix

It is not the explosions that fracture teacher-pupil relationships but the more corrosive, ugly attitudes of a small minority of those in charge. In times past, this minority was more obvious. The offenders humiliated children in public and balled them out with vein-popping rage.

Teachers who so publicly lose their rag are now few and far between. It seems they have realised that the energy is wasted, the outcomes benefit no one and this attitude is unsound. Yet those with this aggression towards children still exist. They simply work within the policy.

They are the 5 per cent - not dissimilar to the 5 per cent of children whose behaviour so disrupts learning. Leave them unchecked and their behaviour is just as damaging. You know them: they bounce children through all sanctions within 30 seconds of the lesson starting and talk down to them as if they truly dislike them. Their carrot and stick approach tends to be closer to the stick with barely a hint of carrot.

We know how to "turn around" some of our challenging pupils. But what do we know about the behaviour of our trickiest teachers?

Poor adult behaviour is a mixture of stress, frustration with learning, personal issues, poor training and past experience. Such teachers need mentoring and will inevitably soak up a disproportionate amount of the school budget - just as the 5 per cent of disruptive children do.

Observation and feedback can help - but only where there is trust and respect between both parties. The hierarchy of school life often gets in the way of this. To really get to the heart of the matter, coaching must be confidential.

Some teachers need to team-teach, see a demonstration lesson or look at specific strategies. For others, the techniques are sound but their mindset is wrong. With these teachers a mentoring relationship is more effective than class support. Changing expectations and shifting perspectives takes courage. Some pupils protect themselves and refuse to communicate when confronted with the reality of their behaviour. The same is true of teachers. Modifying behaviour with small steps and gradual reinforcement works as well for awkward adults as it does for tricky children. Positive communication; short, focused targets; care; kindness; and, when necessary, tough love.

When children cannot read we stop pushing the curriculum at them and teach them to do so. When teachers struggle with behaviour we heap observation on them and allow them to battle on. We pass them through competency procedures like difficult children put through escalating and often ineffectual punishments.

The sliver of behaviour training that most teachers get is wafer thin. So perhaps we need to stop everything and give them a proper behaviour "boot camp". Give them the inspiration they never had and allow them time to learn the techniques.

Most importantly give them the time away from the classroom to develop a different mindset. They need a change in attitude - no one is questioning their aptitude. Allow them to return to the classroom with a plan, a purpose and a renewed belief that they can retry the strategies they previously saw as exhausted; the ones that everyone else is using successfully.

At the same time as these individuals get intensive interventions, the 95 per cent of teachers and teaching assistants who keep to the policy need to become more consistent. A reaffirmation of what is "normal" adult behaviour towards children is sobering but essential. Underlining the agreed practice gives everyone support as they begin to develop new methods.

A tiny minority of teachers cannot be saved. For everyone's benefit some children and some adults need to go elsewhere. Yet most people in trouble can decide to behave differently, to choose a different path. As with the most difficult children, teachers' problems can be solved, with assistance, within their own minds.

Bad routines, overemotional responses, problems with anger and lack of empathy are human, and have nothing to do with your age or gender. The same approach towards behaviour change must ripple through the culture of the school. So why not give the same consideration to troubled teachers as you do to naughty children?

Paul Dix is lead trainer at Pivotal Education and author of The Essential Guide to Taking Care of Behaviour, www.pivotaleducation.com.

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