All character names in this article are fictional.
I’ll always remember my first day in the classroom as an eager PGCE student. I thought I knew it all, and that teaching a class of hyperactive teenagers was a piece of cake. How wrong I was!
Starting out in the classroom can be a daunting experience for any newbie. From chatting to graffitiing, to refusal to do work and outright rebellion – some schools around the world really do provide the new teacher with a ‘full-house’ of interesting characters to deal with.
I wrote a whole chapter about behaviour management in my debut book. Mastery is a long-term thing, and requires an investment of teacher time spent in building rapport with students. However, there are a few techniques that many teaching Olympiads use consistently in their practice, and they work like a treat!
If you’re totally new to teaching, then don’t expect too much at first. It takes time to learn how to use these techniques correctly. Play with them. Get used to trying them out – it won’t be long before you’ve discovered the correct contexts in which to use them.
#1 – The ‘Look’
Maybe you’re writing something on the whiteboard and you can hear some chatter behind you. Perhaps you’re trying to explain a concept and two boys are playing around with each other. Whatever it might be, ‘localised’ disruption can often be tackled as follows:
- Stop talking. Don’t say a thing.
- Look at the disruptive student or student for a few moments in a serious manner
- You can enhance the Look by saying something like “We’re all waiting for you” or “Thank you to those who are listening. I’m just waiting for one person”
# 2 – Are you focussing on the behaviour or the work being done?
It’s important to create a sense of urgency about any work the students are doing. Instead of balling a loud “Why aren’t you doing your work, Sam?” (which would only lead to a confrontation, and probably make matters worse), ask something like “How’s that work going, Sam?” or “Sam, have you finished?”. This puts the focus squarely on the work being done. Always follow up with a “I really need that to be done today. I know you can do it” or some other phrase that conveys urgency and the fact that you believe in the ability of the student.
#3 – You don’t need to punish everything
Everyone deserves a second chance. We all screw up. Unfortunately, however, overly-draconian sanctions systems, especially when implemented in a strict ‘no-compromise’ way, don’t take this human condition into account.
This can prove to be a delicate balancing act. You need to be consistent and fair to all of your students, but you also need to know when repealing a sanction might be necessary.
Michael was a student who was famous for being confrontational. If he felt he was being unfairly treated, or even being ‘told what to do’, he would waste no time in arguing his point. He was constantly on detention, and school had become quite a negative environment for him.
On one particular Tuesday morning, Michael had had quite a rough time. His mum had been away from home for two days, and he had his mates stayed over at his house. It later emerged that they had drank alcohol together and had partied quite hard. After missing school for one day, Michael decided that he wasn’t going to miss school today (he was afraid of the school calling his mum about it). On this particular morning he had skipped breakfast after waking up late, had missed the school bus and had to walk to school.
He arrived at his science class visibly exhausted, and just walked in without even a knock on the door. He then proceeded to take out a can of cola and start drinking it. This is an absolute no-no in a science lab – no eating or drinking whatsoever, and our departmental policy was to issue a detention on the spot. “Michael, it’s good to see you, but you know that you can’t drink in here. That’s an automatic detention”.
Well, that was the fuse that really set him off! “Are you (insert expletive here) kidding me! I’ve only just come into school and I’m on one detention already! For (insert second expletive here) sake!”. Now, most new teachers (and some experienced ones too) would probably respond to this in a gut, emotional way, by enacting whichever sanction they felt was necessary. Not only had Michael broken a class rule by drinking in the lab, but he’d also answered back to a teacher and had used swear words! Surely he needed to be hung, drawn and quartered, right?
His teacher knew better. He knew that raising the level of confrontation would only serve to make matters worse, and would help absolutely no one.
“Okay, Michael, now how do you think I should respond to what you just did?”
“I dunno sir, but I swear down I ain’t done nothing wrong and I’m now on detention”
“Okay, I’m willing to listen to you Michael. I respect you as a person, but I think we both know that you did do something a little bit wrong this morning. Do you agree?”
“Okay, yeah I swore and I had a drink. I haven’t had a drink since I woke up, I’m thirsty. I can’t learn if I’m thirsty”
“Okay, Michael, I’ll tell you what. I’m supposed to automatically give you a detention for your actions this morning, but I’m going be fair with you. I realise that you’ve probably had a rough morning today, so I’m willing to do a deal with you. How about I give you a few minutes to finish your drink outside, and then I’d like you to come inside and produce your best work for me. I know that you can do this Michael, because you’ve produced some brilliant work for me in the past. If you can give me a good piece of work by the end of the lesson, then I’ll probably forget about the detention.”
“Okay. That sounds fair”
“Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate your understanding”
What was the result of this? Michael did indeed try his best to complete the work, and he was let off with the detention. If Michael had decided not to do what we had agreed, then he would have been given that detention (and he knew that).
#4 – Use signals
This works best when implemented on a whole school level, but individuals teachers can sue them too. It’s really simple – you basically train your students to respond to a prompt. Examples that I have witnessed (and used) are as follows:
- The teacher claps her hands 5 times (two slow claps followed by three quick claps). The students all respond by copying the action
- The teacher says “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” and all of the students clap twice
- The teacher raises his hand, and all of the other students raise their hands too
All of the above techniques are great for dealing with whole-class disruption.
#5 – Stay active!
Our jobs as teachers have evolved to the point where many of us are spending more time sat in front of computers, and less time teaching our students. This has forced many educators to spend at least some time within each lesson checking e-mails and preparing electronic resources, whilst the students are working on a task. In some schools this doesn’t cause a problem (particularly when a whole-school ethos of high achievement is prevalent), but when this becomes a regular pattern of behaviour it can cause some kids to lose motivation.
Get up, walk around, and check that your students are on task. Use live-marking, and talk with each child. This not only improves your behaviour management, but also builds up a lasting rapport with you and your students over time.
Did you find this article helpful? Why not check out Richard’s book?