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Twelve lads a-larking

Q: I've let my guard down with a low-ability Year 10 class. There are only 12 of them. They are very chatty, totally lacking in motivation and very cheeky. They are boys and I often feel intimidated by them. I'm not shy, but I find it harder to be tough with older male pupils. One of them made a suggestive remark to me and I was so fazed that I let it go. Some of them are starting to ask personal questions, and they seem to have me eating out of their hands. I hardly realised this was happening. Now that I have realised, I don't know how to win back their respect. Is it too late? If not, how on earth can I get them to do their GCSE coursework? I do feel that the pupils like me, though probably because they know I fear them - but that doesn't mean they'll work for me.

A: The Teacher Training Agency advises that new teachers should not undertake induction in posts that present them on a day-to-day basis with "acute or especially demanding discipline problems". That appears to offer you a trump card that would allow you to disengage yourself from this group, although I don't think it would be appropriate for you to play that card just yet - because Ithink you can turn this situation around.

You say you have "let your guard down". That suggests that you perhaps see the pupil-teacher relationship as adversarial. You have stepped out of your role as teacher and made yourself vulnerable to personalised and emotional pressures. Getting back into role is the key to your success. You are their teacher, not their mate. Bear the following in mind:

* Make the focus of the classroom their learning, not their laddishness.

* Make your teaching as lively as you can - lots of interesting, quick-fire activities that will give a frequent sense of success.

* Be as clear as possible about your expectations, but focus on achievement rather than on behaviour.

* If the pupils are potential GCSE candidates, map out the course for them as a timeline and display it on the wall so that they can see what they should have achieved, and by when.

* Is GCSE really the most appropriate qualification for these pupils? They might be better motivated by an entry-level certificate.

* Interview pupils individually - and here you might find it helpful to work with a sympathetic colleague. Your aim is not to be punitive, but to find out about their achievements and aspirations, and to show how you can help them. Negotiate targets with them and be ready to review them frequently.

* Learn how to use humour to deflect personal or unsuitable comments and backchat.

* Watch experienced teachers working with them.

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