“Except when they don’t, because sometimes they won’t”

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you’d hoped in a new school. Here is some advice for students and their parents about how to turn a bad situation around.

It will not escape your notice that secondary schools run an elaborate scheme of rewards and sanctions that seems to be able to be made to apply to every aspect of a student’s involvement in school. The rewards are great to receive, and much is made of this – but the sanctions, which can sometimes feel as if they come out of the blue and take the form of letters of concern, detentions, warnings, removal from class and referral to higher authorities within the school, can be quite stressful – and will very quickly escalate if not handled properly.

I’m going to offer my advice here, after 13 years of school education, and then at least as long working in schools, I believe there are some inalienable truths about punitive processes, and these can often go against ones instinct.

  1. Heed all Warnings: Except in the most severe of circumstances, students will always be warned before a sanction is applied. If you are warned for disrupting learning, don’t do ANYTHING to disrupt for the rest of the lesson. Contrary to popular belief, the memories of teachers are very short and they just don’t have the energy and ill-temper it takes to hold on to grudges. Your minor error will be forgotten in as much time as it takes the next class to enter the room if you act on a first warning.
  2. Face the Music: If you do end up with a detention or other form of sanction for something that has gone wrong, make it your top priority to attend to it. Be at the right place at the right time. Make sure your uniform is perfect and be very polite. Listen to what the teacher has to say, and explain your point of view if asked. We all understand that people make mistakes and something like a detention is a way of setting things straight. Avoiding a problem will only make it worse. It is amazing how many students I see in 1 hour detentions and on report as a result of failing to attend a detention that was given for something trivial like drinking in class, simply because they didn’t turn up to a 15 minute detention in the first place. 
  3. Communicate: If you find you are in a pickle, COMMUNICATE. Speak to the teacher, to your form teacher, your parents. Even if you feel bad and are worried they will be upset with you, they will also help you put things right. Remember, they like you and it is their job to support you to succeed at school.
  4. Restore  Your Good Name: It is very powerful when a student who has made an error uses it as an opportunity to show their best side and either does something to make amends or demonstrates genuine regret. Teachers’ response to you when you demonstrate that you are genuinely sorry for a mistake you have made will be very different to their response if you argue with them and challenge their decision (remember, they don’t want to be in detention any longer than they have to either!).
And finally, probably the most important advice of all:
It is not the mistakes we make, but how we fix them, that is the measure of us.

Posted by Christopher Waugh

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