Schools are full of mischief. Sometimes that can be a good thing.
A maverick teacher with a twinkle of mischief in their eyes can be inspire pupils because their lesson is likely to be ‘different’.
Quite obviously pupils themselves are mischievous. At heart, we all are. But mischievous pupils can ruin lessons and play havoc with a teacher’s mental health. Inexperienced teachers in particular are often the ‘victims’ of certain behaviours. Some pupils will actively seek to take control of a situation and this can cause some big problems.
As Jennifer Gonzalez (2014) says, “Lots of monster-sized discipline problems start with a single off-task behavior. If you put a damper on those little behaviors, you’ll keep a lot of big ones away, too.”
Dennis Hayes (2006) in Inspiring Primary Teachers notes 8 main types of low-level mischief that if left unchecked can make a teacher’s life hell.
1. The pathetic voice
Some children will put on ‘that’ voice. You know the one – they pretend to be all meek and dutiful just to get some sort of sympathy vote but they soon shift back to their old ways “once the crisis has passed”.
2. The ‘innocent’ doubter
You might be getting on fine when someone pipes up acting all innocent but seeming to doubt what you have said. They might question your way of doing something of the appropriateness of a decision just to sow the seed of doubt in your mind that you have messed up.
3. The gormless responder
This pupil will act like they haven’t a clue and play ignorant. You know they know. They know they know. But they like to pretend otherwise just to get on your nerves and to avoid further questioning.
4. The finger-pointer
There is always one of these in every class. This is the child that will immediately blame someone else just to deflect attention from their own misdemeanors. The victim is normally someone entirely innocent but a soft target.
5. The ‘my mum says’
Tricky one this. You might get a child who refers to their parents and imply that they don’t agree with your methods and ways of doing things.
6. The side-stepper
Children that don’t want to accept responsibility will try to avoid the issue by going off-topic, “stare into space or simply wander off”.
7. The distractor
Someone will try it on and raise something personal with you such as a pet-subject just to get you on their side.
8. The challenger
Teacher’s welcome challenge but some pupils set out to deliberately ask challenging questions that have no relevance to what you are doing. They might also suddenly find a new interest and hope you will be impressed and overlook their poor behaviour.
You might recognise some of these and there are many other low-level behaviours that we could add. Hopefully you don’t have all these in one class.
Of course, everyone will be wondering what to do about all this. Do you use your ‘ignoring muscle’? Do you rely on your ‘teacher stare’? l
Well, according to special forces edu-celeb Tom Bennett, “the secret of any school with great behaviour *and* challenging demographics remains:
1. A strong emphasis on promoting positive cultural norms
2. Well-taught routines
3. Consistently applied consequences
That’s it. That’s the secret.”
Well, it sounds simple enough and in some realities it can be but this is the bottom-line set of guidelines of great behaviour in any organisation, company or family. These are tried and tested tips that go back donkey’s years and they aren’t really a secret.
The issues is, we have made behaviour and behaviour interventions far too complicated. Tom’s advice is the sort of advice I can hear my mentor saying 25 years ago. It’s not new. But it works. The collective will to make it happen is important and there can be no ‘slack’.