I’ve started teaching now and one of the issues that most trainee teachers fear is behaviour management, myself included. It’s very different observing how your tutors at university handle the class and what the experts say in lectures that focus on behaviour and the reality of implementing what you have learnt in your own lessons. Theory and practice obviously fuse and merge and inform each other but the relationship isn’t neat or predictable.
The two classes that I taught yesterday are not abnormal: some SEN, some EAL, some enthusiastic learners and some who come across as though they’d rather be watching paint dry than sit in your lesson. Of course the latter pupils are often the ones that affect you the most as the overarching reason that most people become a teacher is because they hope to empower children through their subject and to teach engaging, challenging and interesting lessons, every day. Yesterday, I felt like I had failed on several fronts, and felt full of self-doubt and deprecation.
So, what happened? Well, the first class I taught was Year 8, and I’d never met them before. They were set 4, 5 being the lowest, and the lesson was on using a variety of sentence structures to create tension. Based on what I’d observed and what I intuitively understood to be the best approach to meeting a new class, I wanted to try and strike a balance between being friendly but also letting them know who was boss. I don’t mean that in some kind of power trip way, but with the hope that they respected me because I wasn’t a pushover and understood that certain kinds of behaviour would obfuscate learning. In reality, what played out was slightly different to what I’d hoped but true to what I’d feared and at times I felt like I was firefighting. I tried the 3-2-1 countdown tactic, and this often worked but quite quickly the same select few pupils would start talking again. This meant I had to stop and wait or to repeat instructions a few times.
The next lesson was Year 10, set 3. I’d observed a few of their classes and saw them continuously disrupting the lesson, despite how experienced and, in my opinion, excellent, their teacher is. I was actually kind of dreading how they would be with me. The same situation happened again. Despite being fairly clear that I would not accept them talking over me but that whilst they did group work or some independent work, they could chat (so long as it was predominantly related to the task), the disruptive pupils paid very little attention to my requests to listen. I think I ruffled the feathers of one fairly feisty girl by being seemingly strict as she gave me the kind of look I would have given most of my teachers when I was a teenager.She was unimpressed and I felt rubbish.
What’s interesting though, is that the feedback I received from both teachers was that the activities I taught were good and that my teaching style was also good. They did give very useful advice on how important it is to establish routines, over and over and over again until they more often than not get it and comply. They also told me that it is fine to wait,even for several seconds until the class is completely silent, even if it feels like an eternity. I need to be more assertive. I think because I hadn’t slept that well the night before and I am very hard on myself and expect the best immediately that I had initially focused on how awkward I’d felt and how much some of the children talked over me or paid no attention to what I was saying rather than how well most of the lesson had gone and how engaged most of the class were.
Today I decided to observe a teacher with a class I’d never seen before. I’ve been in a few of his lessons and something about his laid-back approach, his sense of humour and some of the political chats we’d had in the staff room has drawn me to him as a teacher. The class was year 8, set 4 and had some rambunctious characters. What became clear is that even after teaching for several years, and having taught that class for many weeks that establishing routines again and again is paramount. Teenagers will push, even if the lesson is interesting and well executed as that is what being an adolescent is all about. However, because he had established a relationship with the individuals in his class and that they respected him, he had a basis from which to enforce his expectations and they generally complied. Some did talk throughout the entire lesson, but they had grasped the basics of the objectives, and had written some responses to the tasks. The teacher told me that this was the best behaviour he’d seen from them since September. Ultimately, managing behaviour stems from getting to know your class and you earning their trust and respect. It’s about building relationships, and this doesn’t happen in one lesson so I think I need to stop being so hard on myself, and remind myself repeatedly that implementing the techniques being imparted at university will take time.