#7 in the Teaching Problem –> Solution Series.
This problem was expressed as: How do I handle a misogynistic group of boys, who ignore all instructions are purposefully disruptive and defiant, even becoming harassing?
This clearly comes from a specific situation but here I’ll offer suggestions based on a general interpretation of this challenging scenario.
Plan a fully supported response:
My immediate thought is that any teacher should feel confident that everyone will support them in the view that none of this is acceptable and it should not be something anyone has to tolerate. It’s not something you just handle – you tackle it firmly. It sounds way beyond something you tackle with some assertive reinforcement of school rules reinforced with re-organising the seating plan, some detentions or a call home.
My next thought is that, given the apparent seriousness of the situation, a teacher must immediately report the concerns to a colleague and/or line manager in order to plan a strategy that has the full knowledge and support of the school/college. This is primarily because the behaviours are way beyond anything acceptable, they need to stop immediately and possibly need to lead to sanctions and, ultimately will need a long-run culture shift which goes beyond one teacher and one group of boys. All of this needs to be done in a fully supported manner.
However, sadly, it’s also because the teacher is vulnerable to stressful and unwelcome counterclaims if they level allegations of harassment at students without a secure process that is conspicuously ‘by the book’ in terms of identifying the specific individuals and their behaviours in a well-evidenced manner. The last thing you want, on top of the boys’ behaviour, is to have to handle angry parents firing off letters of complaint and to be put on the defensive rather than focusing on the harassment issue and the boys’ actions.
Identify specific issues
Take time to identify the specific behaviours and the specific people responsible, with reference to specific incidents. This is so that you can explain all this to the students and their parents in detail. Break it down – there appears to be a rising scale of issues in the problem posed:
- group of boys: which exact boys; where and when? It’s important to focus on specific named people as far as you possibly can.
- ignore all instructions: it’s unacceptable, dangerous and can’t happen again – but how often is this and how serious? Has this been something that’s happened repeatedly over some time?
- purposefully disruptive and defiant: when did this happen? It’s a sanctionable level of behaviour beyond any boundaries- so this needs detailed logging: Write a full account,
- even becoming harassing: This is totally unacceptable but the details matter. What was said and done? For the process to follow through and for there to be any hope of the boys understanding the consequences of their actions, the specific moments when this has happened need to be described. If you feel you were harassed, you were harassed; it’s not about doubting this – just about making it explicit to others.
All this might seem like a big hassle – but it’s going to be worth it in the short run and the long run. Harness the support of a colleague to write it up so you can just recount the issues freely while they record it for you.
Determine the most appropriate course of action, based on the specifics:
Will it be enough to address the specific boys as a group, with strict warnings about further incidents? Is it a question of some specific sanctions, calls home and a written apology. Is it at the level of parental meetings – meeting them with a senior colleague?
If the harassment scenario is more serious, you need to follow the discipline policy to the letter and, in all likelihood, gather student statements. This needs a strict statement -gathering operation, either under tight supervision as a group or individually. You may want to remove the oxygen of group power right away, using the support of pastoral staff or senior colleagues, to interview them on their own, presenting them with the issues and addressing your concerns. In some lower level cases, it’s powerful to do this directly yourself, (always supported by a colleague, never by yourself), to assert your authority in the whole scenario. However, in more serious cases, the protocol would be for students to give statements independently so that there’s no suggestion of coercion in admitting to specific behaviours.
Then, with processes in hand, the disciplinary processes need to run their course. Make sure you are kept informed of how things stand especially in relation to the timing of students returning to your lessons.
Once you have addressed the specific incidents firmly and unequivocally, you can look ahead to re-establishing basic expectations, ground rules and boundaries around appropriate language, body language, group behaviours and responses to teacher authority with explicit future consequence laid out. This can be part of a parental meeting, a supported contracting meeting, a reintegration process after a fixed term exclusion – depending on what happened. However, the boundaries must be laid out and acknowledged in some form of reintegration agreement.
With the whole class and/or surrounding peer group, find an opportunity to address the wider issues, and signs and symptoms of unacceptable misogynistic behaviours, narrating how certain actions have consequences – then and every subsequent time you need to.
Set up seating plans and groupings such that boys who create negative peer dynamics are separated within the class or even across different classes. Focus your relationship building on the teaching of the curriculum – their learning needs and engagement with learning processes, not interpersonal connections. Those may repair over time but it’s not the priority. Just get on with teaching them, ensuring they follow all the agreed changes to behaviour that formed their reintegration agreement. Try hard to give them a clean slate and involve them in the same way and to the same extent as anyone else, whilst reinforcing all expectations consistently and assertively.
If things go well, let them know. Reaffirm the positive the change. Allow them to move on provided that they have responded appropriately, having learned the lessons. If things revert back, nip it in the bud with some intervention, using choices and consequences language.
Whatever you do, don’t suffer. This situation is not normal; it should not be part of any teacher’s daily experience. Don’t put up with it.. tackle it. And seek the support you need to do so.