How do you solve a problem like Caleb?

#ToughYoungTeachers is bringing up many discussions on education and in episode two ‘behaviour’ was the topic of the day. This was mainly inspired by Caleb or to me more appropriate Caleb’s behaviour and attitude towards one particular TeachFirst teacher. There were those who considered the boy’s behaviour to be an indication that he was an intelligent and canny individual who was not being challenged and those who thought he was the epitome of what is wrong with education.

Typical statements flying around the Twitter-sphere were:

Students like these should not be tolerated these poor teachers are trying their best! #BlameSMT


That kid (pupil) is hilarious – he’s running rings around that kid (tough young teacher)! #BlameTeachFirst


It’s called behaviour ‘management’ for a reason! #BlameTheNotSoToughYoungTeacher

Not that I’m adverse to having a strong opinion but I sort of agree with all three but rather than sit on all three fences I’m going to smash each fence down and then squat over the remains. (as it were)


Even if you think Britain is going to hell in an online shopping cart you have to admit that the disobedient pupil showing considerable chutzpah was not being sufficiently motivated in the classroom. The teacher had absolutely no clue how to manage the behaviour and as result the relationship between adult and pupil has now become personal. This is not good; mainly because a battle has now started.

The pupil is now very consciously going to try and not engage with anything the teacher does – his main motivation will be to see just how far and publicly he cannot engage without getting permanently excluded. The teacher is also at war with the pupil although probably at a more sub-conscious level. The teacher will be feeling that the ensuring behaviour from the pupil is not his fault and as time goes by the pupil will become a lost cause and the teacher will just wave the white ‘unteachable’ flag and the pupil will win – although the loss will be bitterly apparent to everyone.

Had the teacher approached the initial warning signs of poor behaviour professionally it would not have escalated with the pair of them needing a couple counselling session with a senior leader. A little bit of respect, recognition of capability matched with appropriate challenge and even with a little bit of humility/humour and it could have been a different story.


Why the hell should teachers have to put up with little buggers like that kid anyway…’tis the quiet children I feel sorry for: no one cares about them.’

I do actually. I care very deeply about those quiet pupils and I would happily argue that their needs were not being met either. I also expect teachers to be able to effectively manage the ‘disruptive’ pupils effectively so they can learn just as much as the quiet ones. That is why I employed you. You do know that pupils are children don’t you? You do know that some children have difficult lives and that it is our job to work though those so the child can come out on top don’t you? You know that there is a wealth of information out there about how to deal with challenging behaviour and many professionals in your own school (who may have had successes with this particular child) that you can draw knowledge and skills from don’t you? You do know that to sit back and say ‘it’s not your fault’ as if you’re a casual by-stander rather than a teacher makes you a disgrace don’t you? Good, just checking.

Of course, as a Head I will support you. I’ll help you get better at understanding the needs of these pupils and how to support them without losing sight of your responsibility to the whole class. And trust me that I will back you up when dealing with the pupil’s poor behaviour or talking to the family about the consequences of the child not taking their responsibilities for their own learning and behaviour seriously. Of course I will otherwise…what sort of a Head would that make me?


This is why proper training is important. You’re not dumped straight in at the deep end without the professional maturity to deal with challenging behaviour appropriately. Of course no aspiring trainee teacher is either…but we learnt through placements and lectures how to do it. Our hands were held along the way. Our mentors weren’t out of our sight as we completely messed up telling a child off, letting  a child off, missing what that child over there was doing and their feedback only made us stronger. We became used to feedback and reflections so that in our NQT year, when the stabilisers were off and we were really on our own, we could cope when getting further advice (we didn’t need to compose a song in the toilet).

I feel waves of sympathy towards these ‘ToughYoungTeachers: I couldn’t have dealt with Caleb after six weeks; after six years I probably would still have needed help. But then I flip and feel a bit cross – where is there support? Many TeachFirst folks have answered my queries on Twitter and assure me that support is in place and it’s really good. I hope so, if only so in years to come, the leaders of Teach First can sleep at night.

8 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like Caleb?

  1. teachingbattleground January 18, 2014 / 8:11 pm

    There is no amount of experience and no specific teaching skill that will enable a teacher to “motivate” a KS4 student to work after they have decided to show publicly they have no respect for the authority of their teacher. Show me a teacher who claims that Caleb wouldn’t kick off for them, and I’ll show you either a teacher who wouldn’t expect Caleb to do any work, or who hasn’t arrived at a new school to teach a class like that in a very long time.

    • theprimaryhead January 18, 2014 / 8:22 pm

      Do we accept that there is a time where a pupil has gone beyond the point of no return? (As a purely primary practitioner I can not see that) but I do appreciate that the longer poor behaviour and issues surrounding it have gone unaddressed, this may appear so. All I can say is that somewhere along their educational ‘journey’ that child has been let down. When do we, as paid educators, give up? I think that as pupils get older that question becomes more of an SLT issue than for the teacher. But I would like to think that anyone can still become ‘engaged’ enough and feel like caring about their education. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s too hard but I’d like to think I’d always try.

  2. ollieorange2 January 18, 2014 / 8:24 pm

    Do you not understand that there is no way to handle Caleb, no way to motivate him. The only way to avoid trouble would be to give in to him and accept that he is, in fact in charge. Which is what has happened in many classrooms and many schools.

    • theprimaryhead January 19, 2014 / 10:27 am

      I’ve worked with some pretty extreme cases where it was clear the pupil needed a different educational setting in order to have their needs met; behaviour as modelled by Caleb is no where near that. If I felt defeated by ‘Caleb’s behaviour’ and genuinely could not see a way of getting a handle on it or could not approach it professionally…it would be time for me to leave.

  3. Nicola Richardson January 19, 2014 / 2:05 pm

    I agree with lots of the above, especially the bit about not knowing how to deal with a child like this after only 6 week’s training. In episode one, they said Caleb had just returned to the school from a PRU, so it is not only this new trainee who cannot deal with him, but others who have gone before. The situation must have been bad before for him to be sent to a PRU. So the school management have to take some responsibility- Caleb has history, is placing him in a class with a 6weeks trained teacher fair on him, the trainee or the class? I know teachers have to learn to deal with children like Caleb, believe me my first class in Y2 had many of these “characters” who were already disengaged, but at least I had 4 years of training and experience behind me to know at least some of the things I could try. I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and still find the extreme cases like Caleb, who wants to exert the power he has over the staff, difficult to deal with. Once a child reaches the state of believing that they are the most powerful individual in a classroom, I think there is little that can be done in a usual classroom situation.
    The battle between Caleb and the trainee has become personal, and I see only one winner (Caleb), but sadly I see lots of children who will be massively affected by the battle, as they are caught up in the fight for attention Caleb is staging every lesson. It is those children, whose education is being compromised by the actions of one child, and the teacher who cannot deal with him, that I feel sorry for. And it is for their sake, that I think the problem that is Caleb needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

  4. Chris Best January 19, 2014 / 6:08 pm

    Seeing I work in a primary PRU and do associated outreach work in schools, it’s worth remembering that this boy’s behaviour is almost certainly considerably improved from what it once was. I agree with many of the points raised by you, but also the commenters, and I am glad I am not alone in thinking there should be significant support put in place to support this student’s placement back in a mainstream class. I can only assume (and hope) that this is indeed the case, because I would never work to reintegrate a student into school without ensuring all the appropriate scaffolding is put in place to ensure the transition is successful.

  5. Jmarcus January 31, 2014 / 11:10 pm

    Seriousl?! Caleb just wants to be spoken to like a person and not a naughty little kid. How is that so hard to understand? He literally said as much everytime he was camera. Are teachers so brain damaged they cant see when a person needs to be engaged. I could deal with a kid like caleb in 5 mins, the fact he’s even seen as naughty and not free thinking is pathetic

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