Diary of an NQT: Using negative sanctions


Our NQT diarist has not used many negative sanctions so far this year, and is trying to shake the feeling that they are a reflection on her teaching…

So I can confidently say I am good at rewarding great attitude, effort and application to learning. I would consider myself just as good at engaging pupils to be enthusiastic about learning and the concepts I cover.

However, I have what I think I would call a reluctance to use negative sanctions. I have yet to put my finger on it – why I prefer not to set detentions and would rather not call home for negative reasons.

I have now had three occasions where I have set detentions, which I think is pretty good for one term. These have been set for missing home learning deadlines. However, I have been hesitant to set others for behavioural issues because my preference is to address poor behaviour as and when it occurs.

At my school, this can be done in several ways: removing a pupil from class and having them wait outside until I have a moment to speak to them, telling a pupil to wait behind after a lesson, or seeing a pupil at the end of the day or within the tutor base or year office setting.

All of these approaches can work to a certain extent but none are completely perfect, whether it be problems about detracting from the learning within the class if you are outside in the corridor speaking to a pupil, or potentially making yourself and the pupil late for the next lesson.

I have found calling home extremely useful to both reward pupils and to indicate when there have been problems. Parents on the receiving end have been incredibly supportive and this is great as it can be a difficult thing to hear when I am criticising their beautiful son or daughter.

I have found that often the pupil’s behaviour does not come as a surprise to parents – I am often told that adolescents are much more vocal and frustrated at home than they would be with me. 

I advise handling parents with care in order to get them “on board” and if you have their support this then demonstrates to the pupil that they need to change their attitude and behaviour to meet the expectations of both home and school.

Another strategy is known as “back-up”: when a pupil can be removed from the class by a senior member of staff due to the nature of their behaviour and if they are impeding the learning of others. I have used this once due to one pupil’s disrespect of others in a sensitive lesson, as well as a lack of respect for my direction and instruction. When calling back-up the immediate thought is of failure – “I can’t manage this pupil on my own” – however staff are great at supporting this approach in an effort to reinforce the school ethos.

One brief success story of talking through a pupil’s development came with a year 8 pupil who is quiet and lacks confidence. I encouraged the mum to praise her son for great effort in written work and expressed how much I would love to hear his thoughts and opinions in class, regardless of the boys who may be disruptive and disrespectful. 

The following lesson he volunteered his ideas on three occasions, I was thrilled. I hope this becomes a regular opportunity for him to voice his thoughts as I know typically around school he does not. A year 9 lad then began to do the same – his older brother! The power of having parents on side is quite remarkable.

All of these sanctions – both our reward and merit system and our negative sanctions – work well and help to maintain a very good level of behaviour and attitude around the school and in lessons.

However, I do think the novice teacher in me sees the negative sanctions as a reflection on me and my inadequacies, rather than those of the pupil. I hope with time and experience my effectiveness of using these systems improve and I don’t take them so personally.

  • SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.



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