Behaviour - Getting Ready for Judgement Day- welcome back to the start of another year.
I was going to call this article ‘The Kids are coming- look busy!’ but I don’t need to tell you that very shortly (or perhaps already, if your school operates on an odd, Continental calendar) it will be time to iron your cardigan and warm up your white-board muscles, because the school machine is winding up ALL OVER AGAIN. It never stops, does it? It’s like an enormous conveyer belt, and just when you think you’ve put everything into boxes, along comes another cohort of rosy-cheeked scamps to keep you busy. Very, very, very busy.
Or this might be your first time round- and if so, you’ll be painfully aware that most of the kids have been there longer than you. One of the most common fears of any new teacher is behaviour- and rightly so, because it’s what will probably cause most new teachers most grief in their salad days. Now here’s a pretty thing; behaviour management is best learned by doing it, and no amount of manuals and lectures will get you past a certain point. Eventually you simply have to stand in front of a room of students and see what happens in response to your various strategies and tactics. Hopefully, your teaching placements will have gone some way to creating a sense of nous and muscle memory about how you should act and react in order to get the kids learning and not reading what Cheryl Cole has to say about nail varnish on Twitter (well, at least they’d be reading something).
Good behaviour in classrooms will always depend on the relationship you have with them; gone, gone are the days of automatic deference to authority, and we can splutter with rage at the unfairness of this state, but there it is and we have to deal with it. The relationship you want to achieve with them from day one is one of authority, calm and professionalism. These three attributes support each other, and more importantly, they’re what children expect from adults in positions of authority. If you hold some vestigial hope that the best approach for you to take is to try to befriend them, or be a surrogate parent or- God save me- a learning buddy, then you will be cast into the Hell of scorned teachers. Children may desire a life of ease and entertainment, but that isn’t synonymous with receiving a great education. They can coincide at times, and you would hope they’ll enjoy it, but that’s a subsidiary aim of education, which is often simply hard work and effort.
So give them what they need - an adult and a teacher. If they like you, if they admire you, then that’s a terrific bonus. And here’s a strange thing; if you treat them with manners, have high expectations of them, and set clear behavioural boundaries for them, then more often than not, they WILL admire and respect you. How weird is that? But if you set yourself up as Ali Bongo, the laughing teacher, many kids will simply treat this as a cue to treat you like an affable moron, the butt of their entertainment. That’s not a good look for a teacher.
Of course, there are many, many children who would quite happily work with a teacher who wasn’t clear with their boundaries, who acted like a tall friend, or who let the kids do as they please, because there will always be lovely, mature, emotionally articulate children who don’t need strong boundaries, usually because they already have been taught to possess such qualities. But the problem is that if even a small percentage of your class are as wilful and wild as their natures dictate then the whole dynamic of the class will be shifted in their favour, and your lesson will shatter under the stress.
That’s why the safest approach for any teacher in a new school, a new class, an unfamiliar space will always be to go on with the following approaches:
- Clear boundaries. I mean crystal clear. Set out what you expect from them, and what you expect them not to do. If you present these guidelines on the first day you see them then you raise the status of behaviour in your classroom, effectively saying, ‘This is so important that I’m talking about it on day one.’ Almost like a plane’s safety instructions. You may not enjoy the demonstration- indeed, behaviour management may be tiresome for you- but without it, no one knows what to do when the cabin loses pressure.
- Clear consequences. They need to know not just what they should and shouldn’t do, but also what will happen to them if these boundaries are crossed or met. And that means sanctions and rewards. It’s no good forbidding something, if the penalty for transgression is being stroked with a feather duster. Sanctions have to be uncomfortable. That might make you uncomfortable. Good. It shows that you’re human. But you still have to make them stick. And you also need to spell out the benefits of compliance with the house rules, which means rewards. I advise you not to get tied up too much in material rewards, because it distracts children from the real value of education, which is that it is intrinsically valuable, and that it has a direct correlation with their life opportunities (an extrinsic approach). Mars bars and book tokens are great, but save them for big projects and long term prizes, otherwise you’ll find yourself very poor, and teaching corpulent children with no teeth. Stick to verbal, sincere praise, phone calls home, stickers, etc.
- A seating plan. Some people don’t use these. Most who don’t suffer. Structurally, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to maintain a calm sense of order in your space. It also serves to broadcast the clear signal that this IS your space, and that they operate within your governance.
Of course, there are many who object to even these levels of authority, and claim that children must be encouraged to be independent learners, and that the excess of authority strangles the ability to think, create and learn. And I would agree; my only dissent would be where we place the word excess on the spectrum of restriction. Without some level of authority and control, children will act as they please, and often that will not be in a manner that best aims towards education. The idea that children, left unrestricted, will achieve their own learning is charming, but demonstrably untrue. They need us, as adults, to BE adults. Our guidance and direction provides them with a climbing frame, which they use to raise themselves to new heights. Within your guidelines, requirements and rules, there will be space for them to learn in a safe- and most importantly, ordered- environment. Classes where children shout, move and misbehave at will are the death of education. There is no contradiction between boundaries and love.
In fact, I would say that the two are inextricably linked. If you want the best for them, be the adult they need you to be.
Thunderbirds are ….GO! Starting the new school year the right way.
The beginning of the school year is the perfect opportunity to start doing things the way you want to do them, learning from past experiences and avoiding past mistakes. If you’re brand new to teaching it is probably the most exhilarating and terrifying experiences of your working life. Here are some great links to resources that will help your year start with a bang not a fizzle.
- My recommendations for must dos before you start the teaching year (or as soon as, if you’ve already begun) and what to do next.
- Similar to the NQT checklist, here are some things that more experienced teachers should be thinking about before and after the first few days.
- Get to grips with the new zoo.
- My basic template for some rules that you should think about having in your room- right from the start.
- You really should have one of these…
- Very watchable guide to setting up the class rules, from Teachers’ TV’s Bailey.
- Good discussion program on the merits and methods of rewarding students.
- You love it. This Teachers TV program discusses ways to tame the beast.