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Tough works

ew teachers are often annoyed when a senior manager comes into a lesson and picks out a pupil for a breach of uniform regulations, or other minor misdemeanour. It can seem like an undermining action and often makes the teacher question the importance of "petty" rules.

However, it's not pettiness, irritating though it may be, but one of the most important ways that a school can embed and reinforce its values and attitudes. If pupils realise that the school will act on minor wrongdoings, they are likely to think twice before doing something major.

You can improve the quality of your daily teaching life by being tough on the regular irritations your pupils offer you, but you'll have to invest some initial effort and be ruthless in your approach.

Once you've made your position clear about the basics - things such as pupils making style statements by refusing to tuck shirts in, never having a pen, not taking letters home or bringing reply slips back, always being late, or being relaxed about coursework deadlines - then you'll find that your relationships with pupils improve and you'll eliminate a lot of low-level hassle. You can't be half-hearted; what you do has to work.

The key to success is two-fold. You have to be systematic and consistent in your actions and keep records of what you've done. Your systems must be simple to operate; if they're complicated you'll stop using them and be back at square one.

For example, how do you manage the pupil who is never properly equipped? First of all, make clear to everyone what proper equipment is. A pen, pencil, ruler, a planner or diary, maybe a calculator and a notebook? Display a poster listing what they should have, and refer to it frequently.

Give them take-up time, and announce that you will be making your first equipment check on a specified day, explain the consequences for non-compliance, then do the check.

Begin by warning pupils who aren't equipped, but record the warning. The simplest way is to tag their name on a class list with a yellow highlighter - they'll grasp the yellow card analogy. Set a date for compliance and check again. If the record is visual then it's quick and easy for you to use. If they are unequipped for a second time, tag their names again with a red highlighter and invoke the consequence.

You can apply the same system to all the persistent irritations you could well do without.

Many pupils find it difficult to produce homework and coursework on time and will exploit weaknesses in your procedures. One way to help them is to use the "Yes, Yes" or "Yes, No" response when you take the register. The first "Yes" indicates that the pupil is there; the second response means "I havehaven't brought my work in". Very easy then for you to record the response in your register, and you have an instant visual record.

For coursework, you can extend the procedure by using a grid with pupil names on the vertical axis and due dates for coursework on the horizontal.

A quick dab with the highlighter tells you who has and who hasn't delivered their pieces.

When your records tell you that something's missing, you must follow through. Set a timed target date for production. If it doesn't appear then, use the appropriate consequence. The promise of a phone call to parents is usually effective.

As a new teacher, I used to be impatient with this kind of thing, but I began to see the point quite quickly. It also made me realise that my secondary school's motto, Parvis imbutus tentabis grandia tutus, which roughly translates as "When you are steeped in the little things then you may attempt great things in safety" wasn't quite so footling as I'd thought as a child. The secret of success lies in attending to the detail.

Harry Dodds

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