What would you do if you couldn’t set a detention? by @ferrr80

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This post answers the second part of the 18th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. You can see my other top-Thunks here.

Thunk 18: What would you do if you couldn’t set a detention? by @Ferrr80

Answer below:

I was late for registration every Wednesday when I was at school.

There, I’ve admitted it.

I missed the bus each Wednesday, knowing full well that there was a public bus in another hour. I was usually tired from extra-curricular activities and I was frustrated with school…

“…It wasn’t that I didn’t hear you Miss, but that I didn’t understand you…”

The term dyslexia was a bit of a new one for the staff and I seemed to spend a lot of time battling with myself sounding out phrases like;

“It wasn’t that I didn’t hear you Miss, but that I didn’t understand you. Please can you explain it in another way?”

To this the response was usually a repetition of the first statement. Brilliant, I thought, and so it went on…

I didn’t however ever receive a detention for my punctuality issue and for that I am grateful. I was a strong-minded teenager, who was trying to work out who I was and what I wanted to be. Doing a detention was not on my list of priorities.

…Later on, after faffing in the retail and mortgage industries, I had a change of career and choose to do my PGCE. I truly believed that despite my own memories of school, (I’ve applied selective memory loss to most), that this was the right choice.

During my placement and in particular, one stand-out lesson, following some disruption from 3 students in a year 9 class, the ‘official’ class teacher advised me to set them a detention. In all honesty I wasn’t keen! Looking at my own teaching, I felt it was me that could have done better, but I was keen to develop and learn, so I marched them back to the classroom at lunchtime!

“…I gave them a box of pencils to sharpen and ended up discussing a range of topics related to the subject and school…”

I don’t think having a “chat” about school was what the official class teacher was expecting from the format of this detention. In fact, I’m sure she would have been most unimpressed, but I was keen to find out more about the students and still considered it to be a significant step in the never-ending learning curve, that is ‘teaching’…

I gave them a box of pencils to sharpen and ended up discussing a range of topics related to the subject and school.

To this day, I hear teachers and staff moaning about paperwork and how setting detentions adds to the burden. Record this; annotate that; email everyone that needs to know; phone home; have you filled in the correct form? It’s so much hassle! Why bother setting the detention in the first place?

If the student was late? The student hasn’t done their homework? Are they poorly behaved in class?

Is setting a detention really an effective solution to solving these problems? Do these teenagers actually have the self-reflecting skills we are expecting from them, when put into a room and told to sit silently?! Did I as a teenager? Are we really in the 21st century?

“…It was more of a positive approach to discipline, than other teacher strategies, but it was mine. We’re not all clones after all…”

Ticking boxes during my PGCE year; keeping the class teacher happy in my placement, allowed me to discover my own approach to discipline. It was more of a positive approach to discipline, than other teacher strategies, but it was mine. We’re not all clones after all…

I made progress with those year 9s in the end, and spending that time with them proved to be productive. As teachers we are in the business of building professional relationships and motivating students. I don’t believe in setting a detention where they stare at a wall. How is that going to help your relationship? If anything, it can help to break it down. The high expectations were and still are very much there, but with understanding and listening, there is often a genuine reason for that missing homework. If there isn’t a genuine reason for the poor punctuality or that poor piece of homework, detaining a student for a period of time is unlikely to add value to their time in school.

Maybe the term “detention”, should be replaced with “opportunities for reflection” or something similar. All students want and need our time, so giving that to them in a more positive way, other than setting a detention, can only prove to be effective. We want our pupils to take responsibility, not just to learn to obey instructions. I understand we are all under a degree of pressure and at times, we fall safe.

Ensuring your students are obedient, is unlikely to create a desire for them to learn your subject. It’s a matter of effective teaching to enthuse them to enjoy your subject. This leads to positive behaviour management and in turn, reduces sanctions…

I want my pupils to be curious in school, rise to challenges and learn from each other. I don’t believe I can get them to do that by breaking down the relationship by issuing detention after detention with a “he’s not going to turn up to that” attitude!

So, in answer to the original question, “What would you do if you couldn’t set a detention?” I’d smile sweetly, quietly content, knowing the time I spend with my pupils outside the classroom is far more productive to my teaching, than having them stare at my classroom wall for an hour!

Written by @Ferrr80 edited and posted by @TeacherToolkit
Jennifer Robertson works in a comprehensive high school in Luton, Bedfordshire. You can follow her on Twitter at @Ferrr80 .

Jennifer Robertson


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4 thoughts on “What would you do if you couldn’t set a detention? by @ferrr80

  1. We run the “Taking Responsibility Programme” at lunchtime, where the students have an opportunity to reflect on their choices, explore alternatives and form a plan of action to avoid repetition of undesirable behaviours in class. They do this in conversation with a staff member, utilising a range of reflection tools. I teach in a primary school, so this is a long-haul approach, but it helps to focus on the behaviours that are expected – after all, behaviour attended to increases in frequency.

  2. Jennifer – thank you for writing such a good, thoughtful article on positive approaches to discipline. As someone who received detentions at school, I am trying to remember if I learned anything from them. For many (those caused by lack of homework) it was a reflection that, unknown to most of my teachers, I had a successful writing career outside of school, which I deliberately prioritised. It was only when A-Levels came along and I found the content inspiring that I refocused on academic work.

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