Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Sweet Charity

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Sweet Charity

Article excerpt

Everyone loves a bad guy. I learned that as a newly qualified teacher watching my first cross-country run. It had been raining, the sky was phlegmy with clouds and the course had been churned into liquid mud by hundreds of stampeding feet. But the students made good time. Once past the finish line, they were given their reward: a mug of hot chocolate.

But not everyone competed so earnestly. Just as we were packing up, a few zombie stragglers appeared on the horizon. Dressed in baggy hoodies and woolly hats spattered with logos, they shuffled their way over the line. But rather than admonishing them for their tardiness, their teacher rewarded them with double hot chocolate tokens. It was my first experience of what's known in the trade as "keeping kids onside".

The theory is that by offering dispensations to the rowdier students, they'll become easier to handle. This just panders to poor behaviour - like giving the bully your sherbet Dip Dab so he leaves your packed lunch alone. But since it can improve the learning experience for other students, it's a tactic I've used.

Some time ago, I taught a GCSE revision session to a bunch of weaker students: 22 arrived in uniform while the 23rd turned up in a motorbike helmet with the visor down. It was their last official day at school. Should I squander their final chance to revise on a stand-off with a helmet-wearing twerp or ignore him? Doing the latter seemed a small price to pay for an uninterrupted lesson. Nowadays, I'd be more assertive. …

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