Chair swingers don't stand a chance

Dealing with persistent chair-swingers can be tiresome and frustrating, but Jim Morre knows a trick to help keep those chair legs on the floor.

History teacher, Calderglen High School, South Lanarkshire

If you're anything like me, you may feel like you spend half the teaching period saying: "John, put your chair on the floor. Sarah, chair. John, I've told you. Jamie, you'll break your neck doing that. John, this is your final warning! Jamie: chair, floor, now! JOHN!"

What can you do?

You can't really give out a harsh punishment for chair swinging. On the other hand, you can't constantly interrupt your lesson by telling pupils to get their chairs on the floor.

It was one of the first comments a teacher on my second PGDE placement made. And I asked her, "What can I do? I can hardly hand out a dozen punishment exercises each period for chair swinging!"

With a sage glint in her eye she said: "Give them three warnings, then make them stand for a few minutes."

Is that it?

"You'd be surprised at how reluctant teenagers are to be on their feet for any length of time."

This is the sort of practical advice you don't get in books or lectures. And, do you know what? It really works.

Try it

Next time someone swings, say to them: "From now on when you swing you get a warning. Get three warnings in the one period and you'll have to stand up."

What will normally happen next is the boys' eyes light up, at which point you add: "This is not a competition to see who can stand up first. If you choose to turn it into one, I'll turn it into a competition to see who's standing the longest."

Let them know you mean business and it's not some sort of joke. Don't make them stand too long, a few minutes is enough.

When the inevitable third warning comes the kids will resist the first time you try to make them stand but persevere. Remind them they knew exactly what happened if they got to warning number three, the fact they received two warnings and still chose to swing.

Don't let any of them away with not standing up. If a pupil still refuses send them outside to cool off and have a quiet word with them outside. Don't get involved in a heated debate about it because you won't win.

Maintain the rules

You need to keep on top of it at all times. Don't let the enforcement of it slide or ignore someone doing it because you're busy, or because they generally don't swing. Otherwise, the pupils won't respect the rule. Saying that, even if you do miss someone swinging or mistakenly give them a second warning when it should actually be their third, their peers will take great delight in keeping you on track with exactly who has how many warnings.

The best part about this strategy is that it's a harmless and somewhat humorous method of behaviour management. In one class we've even come up with the rule that on someone's birthday they get an extra swing allowed just to keep it light-hearted and not make it seem like a punishment.

The kids do actually find it kind of fun once they are used to the idea and for those who really can't stop themselves from swinging, they see it as a challenge to beat the teacher and not have to stand up during the course of a period. Little do they realise it's more a victory of mine than it is theirs when they walk out of a class and say: "Ha! You didn't get to make me stand today, Sir."