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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Teachers reflect on disciplining
By Hannah Goff
BBC news at the NASUWT conference in Belfast

pupils fighting
Teachers are being urged to take a "softly softly" approach
Trying to control a disruptive class can be a bit like being a stand-up comedian in front of a heckling audience.

Teachers have to be able to read the

mood of the room, keep pupils entertained and interested, and crucially ensure they are the ones in control.

Richard Hinton, a teacher for 36 years, says: "When you have to compete with the comedians in the class that spend all their time showing off to their friends by trying to get one over you - it can make life really difficult."

Maintaining respect and control is key, says the teacher from Christchurch Middle School in Stone, Staffordshire.

"If you have got a disruptive class then you have got to own them. You have got to be fair and you have got to be firm - and sometimes you have to be bloody-minded.

"If you lose them you never get them back," he warns.

Former army teacher

He recalls the story of a teacher who was lauded for her skills by a senior colleague.

She had taught in army school in a foreign war zone during the 1950s with incredible results.

"But when she was brought back here to teach, she couldn't do it, the kids were all over her.

"It turned out that at the army school where she had taught there was a guy with a machine gun at the back of the class because the army needed to protect its school.

"If anyone misbehaved - he would take them out. But without this soldier giving her a helping hand she just couldn't do the discipline."

Teaching the badly-behaved

Barry Ryan teaches children with emotional and behavioural difficulties at Moatbridge School in Eltham, south-east London.

He says because behaviour is one of the key reasons that pupils are in this special school, teachers have to have a range of tactics to deal with it.

Richard Hinton
Richard Hinton: Sometimes you have to be bloody-minded

"We use an incentive system for good behaviour based on pupils getting activities at the end of the week which are funded by the school.

"It works well with the Key Stage 3 pupils (aged 11 to 14) but the older ones can be a bit blasť.

"The boys, especially, can be quite blasť in front of their friends about going up and getting certificates - but secretly they like it."

The school also has a system through which behaviour that is above and beyond what is expected is rewarded with bonus points which build up into vouchers for stores like WH Smith and Argos.

"It's the modern day equivalent of the gold star - it's not a new system, it's just how we tailor it to pupils' needs.

"I would like to see something where children could pick something out of a catalogue to aim for by the end of term."

Young parents

But isn't it more the role of parents to set their children long term goals?

Driving lessons for GCSE passes, a new bike for Christmas if you get good grades or a fiver slipped in the hand for helping out with the household chores?

Barbara Galloway, who teaches at a learning support unit at Linton Mead Primary School in Greenwich, says teachers are more and more frequently called upon to take on a quasi-parental role with pupils.

She said: "We have so many parents that are so young themselves - they haven't learned how to be parents yet."

Mrs Galloway says she even has to teach pupils common courtesies like saying please and thank you and holding the door open for people.

Twenty years ago offering pupils rewards for good behaviour went out of fashion, she says.

"Reward became a dirty word - now it's come full circle and it's back in favour.

"The reward system is good as long as it is not mis-used.

"We shouldn't be rewarding pupils for something which they should be doing anyway," she adds.

Reading skills

For both Mr Ryan and Mrs Galloway, poor behaviour is inextricably linked to poor reading skills.

"If I took you to a country where they were reading Sanskrit and I was writing that on the board - well anyone would behave badly - how bored would you be when you tried to follow it and all you could understand was the odd word," says Mr Ryan.

But for all three, the root of poor behaviour often lies in pupil's poor self-esteem.

Mr Ryan says: "Many pupils just switch off because they know they can't see themselves getting five grade A to Cs at GCSE."

Mr Hinton remembers a girl he taught who gave him no end of trouble.

"She wasn't very bright and she didn't want to learn, I would send her out and tell her off and eventually she told me: 'I know - I was a waste of sperm.'

"That was the kind of thing she was used to being told at home."

But teachers can't make too many allowances for pupil's difficult circumstances, he argues, because there is the rest of the class to think about and they don't understand why someone is getting special treatment.

"Ultimately teaching is a compromise, you judge the compromise as best you can and try to keep the lesson flowing."

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