IF you’re struggling with a class, there’s no phrase from a colleague more guaranteed to suck the living essence out of you than this classic: “Well, they’re fine for me.”
The proper response is, of course, to question your colleague about their quasi-mystical skills to help you understand how it is that they’re better than you in every way.
This is most effectively done when said colleague is bound to a chair with sticky tape and prodded with a nice sharp protractor.
Sorry…I had to get that off my chest. Now, let’s explore this pernicious little statement properly with a modicum of detachment. We can break out the sticky tape later.
It is true that sometimes certain teachers can control classes better than others, but it’s also true that there are a wealth of factors behind why this might be the case (and it’s not just quasi-mystical skills either, no matter what some would have you believe). It’s very rarely a question of who is “better”: experience, familiarity and style all play a part.
However, even with that knowledge, it’s very difficult not to take it personally when a group of children decide to behave for Mr or Ms Perfect down the corridor but emulate the sacking of Rome in front of you (believe me, it is a decision; children aren’t automata).
So let’s step away from thoughts of using pointy mathematical equipment, take a deep breath and try to figure out what’s going on.
Are you new to the school?
If so, that’s a contributing factor. If you’ve not had much time to become established and you’re still in the process of building a reputation and rapport, that’s going to put you on the back foot in comparison with the old guard.
Experience and familiarity are the bedrock of behaviour management. If you don’t have these and someone else does, it’s only natural that the wrangling part may seem to come easier to them. If this is the case for you, pester these colleagues to pass on their wisdom.
Is Ms Perfect in authority?
It’s a shame, but the “fine for me” mantra is often uttered by senior management. Children aren’t daft, they can easily identify hierarchy and know where trouble can really come from – they’re not going to mess with a deputy head. But little old you? Well, that’s another matter. Tell this member of the senior leadership team (SLT) what is going on, and they will usually find a way of helping.
What’s the behaviour policy?
If there is no solid behaviour management policy in school, or it is not enforced, that means that individual classrooms become enclaves of differing standards and approaches. This lack of consistency means that it’s up to the individual to set the ground rules and enforce them. Differing standards between classrooms mean that children are more likely to try their luck with those they perceive as being “weak” in behaviour management, leading to disruptive behaviour. This is a tough situation. If the SLT isn’t listening about the need for clear rules, then maybe this is not the school for you.
Are you doing all you can?
Let’s be honest, there may be things that you are doing (or not doing) that mean you’re having a hard time of it, comparatively.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow but there’s always the option of asking for help. So this other person does it better than you? Great, that’s a learning opportunity – perhaps a quick look at one of their lessons or some mentoring might add a few more tools to your own approach.
“Well, they’re fine for me” is a wildly insensitive statement. But before we get jabby with protractors, it might pay to enter a dialogue with the person making it. They may well have a golden nugget that will help. And after you’ve got hold of that? Sticky tape awaits...
Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds
Top 10 behaviour tips
TES behaviour guru Tom Bennett shares his favourite strategies. bit.ly/BennettTips