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The Behaviour Guru

Book review of ‘The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers’,

Tom Bennett, Continuum, 2010 (ISBN: 9781441128607, 240 pages, paperback published at $27.95)


In this Agony Uncle Greatest Hits of Behaviour Strategies, Guru Bennett has achieved something of particular value to - particularly but not exclusively - new teachers: a jargon-free, unpatronising, highly browsable and accessible set of responses and suggested solutions to common classroom management issues. The book appears to fill that mysterious gap between the occasionally wise and always evangelical nuggets of advice imparted to trainee in the lecture theatre (“Begin and end your lesson at your door!”, “Adopt firm but approachable body language!” and “The only person whose behaviour you can change is your own!”) and the inevitable reality of classroom survival tactics which kicks in as soon as the students see the whites around your eyes, the chairs start flying and Bloom’s Taxonomy holds little negotiating value in a hostage situation.

 Its chatty and informal style owes much to the nature of the questions and responses posted on the TES online behaviour forums, on which Tom Bennett can also be found imparting his worldly advice. Those looking for academic references and detailed psychological explanations to certain behavioural traits for a thesis would however be better off looking elsewhere: this is a flick-though-in-your-free-lesson-in the-staff-room-after-a-rubbish-lesson tome, rather than a detailed analysis of various theories on inclusion vs. exclusion or the holy grail on boys’ achievement.

Admittedly, you may get a more personalised response if you were to contact the Guru online, but if you want an instant answer without having to wade through pages of search results, other people’s mis-spelled comments on the forum, or just a reminder that you are not alone in the big bad world of behaviour, you would do well to turn to this book which seems, like Mr Bennett himself (and perhaps that really annoying kid who sits near the back in 9X4), to have an answer for everything. True to form, there’s even advice on dealing with those who just seem to have something to say all the time (pages 54 and 117, in case you are interested). It is packed with common sense advice which aims to restore confidence to new teachers, give alternative ideas and solutions to those who think they have seen it all before and to reassure the reader that there is light at the end of the tunnel and things will improve, even if that means taking another job in a different school.

There is also a helpful section on ‘Dealing with other grown-ups’ which recognises that it is not always the younger school attendees who give grief and sleepless nights to a teacher and should serve as a reminder that an open and responsible senior management team and a supportive body of staff in the school are as important as an effective sanctions/bribery policy for the students in securing and promoting good behaviour.   

 Eyebrows may be raised at some of the entries (“Urinating in the classroom: is it acceptable?”, “I was called a c**t”, “Pupils mock my sexuality”) and one would imagine that it may take more than simply sitting Veronica away from the scissors or greeting students at the door to solve these issues.    In doing so, the book does however serve as a useful reminder that annoying, disruptive, horrible, violent and unimaginable things can and do happen in and out of the classroom quite regularly and that as a teacher, you have to respond somehow, be it tweaking your lesson planning or getting the heavies in. It may also prove a handy reminder to those teachers, old and new, who may feel (quite wrongly, according to our resident Guru) that admitting to a behaviour issue is an admission of a failure in one’s own teaching as a whole. Our guru also recognises and stresses that, in essence, kids are kids and there always have been and always will be, some behavioural issues or another in schools to deal with. It would be unnatural to teach and never encounter odd behaviour of some form: the key is how you deal with it on a personal level, how you can expect other to back you up and how you let it affect the rest of your teaching and your life. It doesn’t set out to magic away bad behaviour forever, but it does give reassurance that others have found themselves in your position and offers a grounded approach to understanding and beginning to tackle, or at least going some way to avoid, behavioural issues in the future. There is a very useful section on dealing with stress and maintaining perspective in which (inter alia) readers are advised to get enough sleep and exercise and practical tips on what to do when you “hit the wall” and feel that teaching may not be your thing after all.

This is certainly a book that no self-respecting staff room or faculty office should be without: it would also serve as a good starting point for discussions with colleagues about practical ways to deal with certain students and situations. Whether a student teacher will turn to this book or to the myriad of free resources and advice online (including those of Tom Bennett) for practical tips on tackling problems remains to be seen. Either way, our Behaviour Guru hovers, like a guardian angel, ready to gently reassure, redirect and reintroduce classroom Zen. For the time being anyway, until little Johnny has too much sugar at lunchtime. Again.

Jenny Turner