Misbehaving students

How to handle misbehaving students


As a young teacher, learning how to handle misbehaving students in the classroom is one of the more daunting elements of the job. Strategies for dealing with challenging behaviour can be very personal, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice. So rather than me give you bullet-pointed advice, let me tell you about Kimber. He was one of those kids who will drive you not merely up the wall, but right up to the ceiling and out through the roof.  Anyone who teaches for more than five minutes will know what I’m talking about. How to handle classroom discipline is a complex topic.

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Late developer: Berwick Coates on teaching games


Teaching games in school.  Usually they have specialists to do that – and nothing else.   If there are not enough specialists to go round, normal ‘classroom’ teachers spend  a fraction of the week (large or small)  doing the same thing.

The relationship between coach and players is not the same as between teacher and class.  A teacher may have spent forty minutes teaching Maths to twenty-odd boys in the morning, and then turns to teaching hockey to the same twenty-odd for an hour or more in the afternoon.  But the set-up is different.

It’s in the open air for a start.  Fresher, often much colder or much hotter.  All that space.  The teacher/coach does not have the assistance of four walls to concentrate effort and attention.  He often has to bellow, to give them a mental kick in the pants.  This is particularly true when he is trying to teach positional play in a team game.  Children are generally happy to follow a ball, but are not so good at working out what to do when the ball is nowhere near them.  In that sense they are rather like a TV camera at a league match.  The viewer often has little general view of the whole game, and it is a rare young player who has a grasp of the situation on the whole field when he is playing.

Secondly, if the coach joins in, as he used to be able to, for any of the reasons I have suggested, there is always the risk that he will make a mistake himself, and that is always good for a laugh.  Maths teachers do not make many mistakes explaining Pythagoras` theorem, but games coaches cut splendid figures if they slip while attempting a tackle, or miss a simple interception, or get their favourite off break dispatched to the long-on boundary.  A good general laugh is a splendid tonic to any situation.  And, if he is to benefit from it, the coach had better join in.

Student behaviours
Advice and reflections from 40 years in the classroom

Then there is the obvious – the fact that lessons are lessons, and games are games.  So of course the air is lighter.  Even if you are working them hard, they are usually willing to put their backs into it.  And they tolerate all sorts of informal techniques on the part of the coach designed to extract more effort or concentration from them.  If a teacher has built a good atmosphere, they will accept no end of pushing and driving, and the coach for his part will have to accept the response that that can bring – in the shape of a good grumble, or a sharp repartee.  If the atmosphere is sound, he will rarely take offence at this, because he knows that the relationship between him and them has been hammered out over several weeks or months, in mud and dust and grazes and bruises and wind and rain and disappointments and triumphs.  Both sides know where the boundaries of good taste lie, and as a general rule rarely cross them.

This in its turn provokes a more lively – well, camaraderie, if you like.  They know you are the boss, but they know too that you and they are working together to make a decent set of players.

The quips can fly.

The best way to explain, and I hope justify, the healthy atmosphere that can be generated by this philosophy and approach is to give an example.

I was out on the field one afternoon with a group of lively fourteen-year-olds, playing hockey.  Some of them were highly talented, and would play for the first eleven in a few years.  They were also bright.

I had just made a mess of some movement, or been slow off the mark, or simply missed the ball or something, and somebody observed darkly that my advice was perhaps not quite as valuable as they had hitherto been led to believe.

Rising to the bait, I declaimed, loudly, to the whole field in general, in what I hoped were tones of mock censure, ‘I’ll have you know that I have been playing this game for over twenty years.’

Quick as a flash, back came the response, accompanied by a broad grin:  ‘You must have taken up the game very late in life, sir.’

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Is there life after teaching?


When I was in my mid-twenties, and pretty new to the teaching profession, I once attended the retirement party of a man who had, years earlier, taught me.  I have two memories of that occasion.

One was a story he told (most people about to retire have a pretty deep fund of reminiscence to draw upon for such moments).  It came from a lesson he was conducting, with a class of juniors, about the New Testament – the Annunciation, to be precise.   They had done the usual reading round the class about Mary and the angel, and the staggering news he was bringing her.

One pink-cheeked member put up his hand and said, ‘Sir, what is a womb?’  (He pronounced it to rhyme with ‘bomb’.)

The teacher said, ‘I told him he didn’t have one, so he didn’t need to worry, and we carried on with the lesson.’

The second thing I remember was the thought that went through my head while I was listening.  To think that I was in the same room as a member of the same profession as mine who was retiring.  Retiring!  It was as if he had said he was planning to go to the moon for his holiday.  It was totally beyond my range.  Retirement!   Youth can not get its head round such a concept.  What did it mean?  What did it involve?  What did it feel like?  What did you do?

Of course I knew – or thought I knew – about the obvious things – like being sixty, and  not having to mark any more exercise books, and queueing up at the Post Office every week to draw your Old Age Pension. I shared the misconceptions of everybody else about ‘putting your feet up’ and ‘having time to do all those household jobs’ that you had been postponing for years, and ‘amusing yourself’’.   But that did not get me very far.

It was about as accurate and as comprehensive as imagining that a dentist’s life consisted solely and entirely of saying ‘Open wide’.   Very few people stop to think much about it because they have not got there.  They may have ‘made plans’ and ‘downsized’ and taken out endowment policies and pension plans, but that is just prudence; it is not experience.  It doesn’t tell you much about what it feels like.

Perhaps the simplest way to sum it up is to make a comparison:  the day you retire, a door shuts.  The next day, and ever afterwards (if  you keep your wits about you), doors open.  Many of which you could not possibly have foreseen.  When you start being a teacher, you have a pretty good idea that you will spend a lot of time on your feet talking and a lot more time sitting down marking and writing reports.  When you start ‘retiring’, it’s not as simple as that.

However, there should be one thing you ought to be sure of:  you are not going to be bored.  Dammit, you have spent your life teaching children how to occupy their minds fruitfully; it would be a pretty poor show if you couldn’t then do it yourself.