Education Quandary: A pupil has behaved very violently towards me and my confidence has gone. What can I do?

Hilary's advice

First of all, don't feel badly about reacting this way. Violence towards us, in any form, is an assault on who we are and most of us find it hard to get over. But I know that any other advice I can offer here is probably going to feel inadequate and irrelevant, as you have already made it clear that your recent teacher training was of no help, and neither was any of the advice you received from school colleagues.

The hard truth is that there are some pupils in school today who have no respect for anyone and who do not hesitate to bully, threaten and intimidate teachers, and there is no foolproof way of dealing with them. Experience will help you become more confident and more able to assess situations. And your school is obliged to give you good mentoring support – if your mentor is no use, go to your headteacher and demand someone better.

The practical advice from some behaviour experts is to think ahead about problems, and how you would handle them and what you would want as an outcome. Confronting a potentially violent situation is not always the best option. Sometimes it can be wiser to ignore it, or to try and distract those involved.

I think your bigger problem might be dealing with the fear you have been left with, and for that you might want to consider short-term counselling or help from an external body such as your union, or the Teacher Support Network.

Readers' advice

How disgraceful that a young teacher should have this happen at the start of her working life. The school should make sure that the parents of this boy, as well as the boy himself, realise that this behaviour cannot be sanctioned. It is impossible to have a decent society if respect for authority is lost. If your school will not take a stand, my advice would be to change jobs.

Audrey Coussins, London W2

After teaching in primary schools for nearly 20 years I was last year pushed to the ground by an angry 11-year-old.

The shock left me trembling for weeks and I am sure that if this had happened at the start of my career, I would not have continued. People should know the levels of aggression that teachers have to deal with these days. All the old tricks of speaking calmly and sending children out of the room do not work on those who have "lost it" or who have no respect for you.

Helen Griffin, Bristol

I have had chairs thrown in the classroom, tables pushed over, fists raised and doors slammed in my face. What keeps me going is the knowledge that it is only a small number of children that cause these problems, and that the others are mainly well-behaved and willing to learn. Hold this majority in mind when the rest cause you grief – and do not give the others the satisfaction of feeling that they have won.

Brian Tanfield, Hampshire

Next Week's Quandary

What is your advice about teaching at an international school? I'm strongly tempted by the thought of working in the sunshine, and getting away from our sapping health-and-safety culture for a bit of adventure, but I'm also ambitious and do not want to end up in a backwater.

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com. They can be searched by topic.

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