There’s always one – but they can be tamed

23rd October 2015 at 00:00
What can you do when a single student stubbornly resists your efforts to maintain a well-behaved classroom? Plenty, as we reveal

It’s October half-term, and you are feeling proud that the resilient rubber ball of optimism you boldly brought to your teaching game in September is mostly withstanding the slings and arrows of low-level disruption. You’ve followed the school behaviour policy: left no top button undone, no planner unchecked, no retort unpunished, no detention unattended, no parent uninformed.

And yet there remains “the Truculent One”: the last student to resist your behaviour blitz. Why won’t they bend to your iron will, respond to your persistent pedagogy, your blend of charm, charisma and professionalism? And what can you do about it?

Take stock of your achievements

Grab a quiet moment to appreciate all the students who are where you want them to be. It could be worse: you have the Truculent One, not a Defiant Duo or a Thwarting Threesome. You must be doing a lot of things right.

Keep the faith

Your expectations need to stay sky high. Your vision of being in perfect control of your classroom must not falter. Don’t compromise or let things slide. Don’t give up on the vision of having every single student doing the right thing. Yes – even that one.

Reflect on what else you can try

Have you used every technique at your disposal? Have you established crystal-clear routines and boundaries? Have there been consequences for the unyielding student’s behaviour?

From lesson one you will have insisted on a seating plan, taking into account behaviour and learning needs; set clear expectations, using sanctions when they are not met; and established a clear start-and-end-of-lesson routine.

In your low-level arsenal you will already have mastered the classics: the teacher stare; a strong, silent “waiting” stance; the raised eyebrow; a pointed book tap; gentle redirection; rule reminders; partial agreement; verbal warnings; and the end-of-lesson pep talk.

Had to move it up a gear? You will have tried changing the seating plan; setting detentions that are chased until completed; phoning home; using a subject or head-of-year achievement/behaviour report; and lesson removal. You may even have linked behaviour in your lesson with deprivation of other valued activities, such as social time, football practice or art club. Anything missing? If so, try it.

Build the relationship

It’s easy to get stuck in a negative cycle. Once a sanction is served, it’s new-leaf time. Don’t hold a grudge. Continue to build a positive relationship with even the most stubborn student. Look for common ground, shared interests and a point of contact. Don’t drop your standards and reward what should simply be expected behaviour, but do use Bill Rogers’ “positive correction” and “repair and rebuild” approaches. An appreciative phone call or postcard home, or using your school’s reward system, can be the forgotten flip-side of the behaviour routine.

Press the reset button

Read some Bill Rogers over half term. Re-establish your boundaries from the first lesson you’re back and consistently stick to them. Be the teacher who makes every phone call home, chases every detention and gets the reputation of being “firm but fair”.

If you’re doing all the above and the behaviour of the Truculent One is still consistently at a low-to-medium level, then – while your responsibility as the classroom teacher still holds – the whole school behaviour support system should be grinding into action to help you.

Your school should have a set procedure for persistent poor behaviour, no matter how low-level. Hopefully, your middle and senior leadership team supports high expectations and firm boundaries, and your SEN team, pastoral and family liaison support will also share time, expertise and hands-on help.

If you’re not getting support, ask for it. There is a limit to what you can achieve alone.

If, after all that, the Truculent One still cannot turn it around, they may need more support than you can offer in the classroom. Although you will grieve the failure, never forget that you have 29 other, equally valuable, students to teach.

Stephanie Keenan is curriculum leader for English and literacy at Ruislip High School in London. She blogs at and tweets @stephanootis

What else?

Take it from one who knows: read Tom Bennett’s top 10 tips for behaviour management.

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