Trainee: “I don’t want to ruin a child’s day”
Mentor: “So you’re prepared for them to ruin yours are you?”.
This was a conversation I overheard during my PGCE placement. Behaviour management & classroom etiquette is at the heart of a prospering school. These are a few things I’ve learnt on my eventful but short teaching career thus far.
What do I do when a student tells me to f*ck off?
About a year ago Teacher Tapp completed a survey on 2,500 teachers across the UK. Key findings were NQTs and Trainees found behaviour management tougher than their more experienced colleagues. With sensationalist media headlines around the rates of fixed-term & permanent exclusions, we’re made to wonder if poor behaviour is an epidemic as such. Even research findings from the Policy Exchange found that 45% of new teachers felt unprepared to deal with behaviour during their teacher training.
A student tells you to ‘F*ck off’. The following are tips & hints drawn from both my own personal experiences, observations, training and wider research literature behaviour management in schools. By no means is this an exclusive list but it’s aimed to condense the breadth of existing conversations about effective classroom management.
Keep it simple & consistent:
Stick to a behaviour management technique that you’ve chosen. Work on it, develop it and reshape it to meet your teaching style. I’m a huge fan of the ‘3,2,1’ method & it’s worked well even with the most challenging sets. But once you have found the method you most prefer, stand by it. I remember trying 3,2,1 and then repeatedly saying ‘silence’, to then ‘Sshh’. The students saw the inconsistency & pretty much ran the around class. Keep your method simple, turn to it when you need it & be consistent with it. If names on the board works, do it! Just have conviction & that’s how you’ll have greater control over your class.
If you hand out a detention, send a child out, give a reprimand, follow up. Log the behaviour, make note of it & make the students know you mean business. Telling a pupil they’ve got detention and then not setting it, that’ll give them the impression you’ve forgotten. Follow up your sanctions & really take command of the situation. I think so many of us get overwhelmed with the workload, we can forget. But following up will really lay down the gauntlet to the student. They’ll know you’re here to stay & wont let up. That will empower you and earn their respect too.
One size doesn’t fit all; be reflective.
Did I use ‘3,2,1’ during my time on Supply? Or when I did some work at a PRU? Absolutely not! Being consistent is so important but remember the context too. I’m trying to avoid any contradiction with the first point but some classes & contexts may need more empathy & less authority. My key example is a Year 11 class I had. They previously were taught by a mixture of Supply & Cover teachers. They wouldn’t play ball with me, it was very tough. I was sticking to my go-to behaviour management methods & they were failing. It took a long and deep conversation about a topic on the specification, namely euthanasia, to break down their resistance. I realised they didn’t an authoritarian, they didn’t need such draconian strictness. They needed a place to discuss ideas, work collectively & hold conversations that mattered to them. One size doesn’t fit all. With time & understanding your students, you’ll eventually find a method that works. That Year 11 class by the way worked their socks off for me. Some absolutely incredible stories that I may never have heard if I didn’t be reflective in my practice.
Know your audience:
Study your classes. Knowing what you’re dealing with is so important. Taking time out to read class profiles, making mental note of your targeted students & pitching lessons based on the needs & requirements of your students. My experience of an all EAL class which I couldn’t control. I literally felt like crying as they walked in because I didn’t know what to do. My own rookie mistake was to not read the class profiles! After reading, annotating & working through profiles I realised that many students were entitled to a TA. I then immediately sent emails & through admin error, no TAs were sent to the class. Within days I had two TAs, I was able to then work on clear ways to translate work to make it accessible & when I left, one of the TAs said “You didn’t give up on them, that’s what made all the difference”. Teachers are stand up performers, they need to know what their audience is like. Taking some time out to know your classes can make such a difference.
Follow School Policy
Make sure you follow the behaviour policy of your school. Many of us observe maverick teachers doing magic tricks to get students to behave. But school policy is school policy. A sign of a strong school is the universal use of tried and tested behaviour management policies. These policies aren’t their just to appease Ofsted & fill in countless pages of staff handbooks, they are there to help you. When you use these policies it again reaffirms to the students you’re “one of them”. ‘Them’ as in teachers that get students to behave.
Get back up – SLT drop ins:
There’s no weakness in asking for help. Contrary to popular belief, a good teacher is one that seeks support & guidance after they have reflected on their own practice. Getting SLT to drop in and pop by your lessons not only reaffirms control but also indicates to students that you are being supported by management. Many schools aren’t suspicious that you can’t control a class or in fact teach. I’ve worked with some fantastic Heads that have routinely dropped by to my lessons as moral support. Use your SLT & school behaviour network. A tough class can be cracked when they know someone’s got your back!
Good Rapports = Good Behaviour:
We see videos of teachers sharing handshakes with students & high fives. At the very core of good teaching is good relationships with students. Attaining, maintaining & retaining those rapports and relationships is so important. I’ve often heard “popular teachers aren’t the best teachers” and that “you’re not here to be liked, you’re here to teach”. My holistic outlook comes from my care & consideration to see students succeed. It’s not about popularity but confidence & trust breeds mutual confidence & trust. If you treat someone well they’ll do anything for you. If you’re hard working, consistent, likeable & caring, those those values alone, you’re aiming to have students that share that ethos. Having strong relationships with your students will mean, 9/10, they’ll do anything you say. Including behaving themselves!
Don’t take it personally:
A badly behaved student didn’t wake up one morning & over a bowl of cornflakes draw up a Nietzscheanplan to ruin your day. Contextual factors come into play here again. They aren’t behaving badly because of you. It’s easy to lay blame upon yourself and sob uncontrollably at a badly behaved class. But why not go and observe that class with another teacher? If their behaviour is identical to the one you’ve encountered, then at least “it’s because of me” is taken out the equation. I’ve been racially abused, sworn at & had stationary thrown at me. The racism in particular I took to heart but hindsight is a beautiful thing. Children are sadly growing up at a time of misconceptions. I put it upon myself not to feed into this & just brush it off.
Classrooms are a place of innovation, creativity, independence, nurture, success, failure, rebellion, challenge, empathy & any other characteristic you can think of. One person, single-handedly controlling & also teaching classes that often eclipse the 30 student mark, that’s no easy feat. Although your training may not cover behaviour management in great depth, it’s important that EVERY teacher is trying to improve. Regardless of status, hierarchy or position, EVERY teacher is trying to add to their repertoire of skills to enhance their practice.
Behaviour management truly is a reflective working in progress. But keep it simple, be consistent, know your context, request support if needed, gain good rapports with students & keep reflecting. Set the standard & good luck.
Thank you for reading: