Self-preservation required as the term takes hold

Pupil, teacher and equipment breakdowns are a reminder of the importance of behaviour management
6th October 2017, 12:00am
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Self-preservation required as the term takes hold

I’m back in the classroom. It’s hard. I haven’t been away for long - well, less than a school year - but out in the non-teaching world, it’s easy to forget.

Freedom makes you complacent. Luxuries such as going to the toilet when you want and having time to eat and drink become the norm. Your daily existence, even when busy, doesn’t feel like you’re running on a full-speed treadmill.

Viewed at long range, the job itself also shifts focus into something idealised and noble: a landscape of lightbulb moments, triumphant class assemblies and fruitful staff discussions over the best way to teach reading.

Clearly, through some self-preservational quirk of memory, I’ve blotted out the reality. This particular week, I can confirm that primary teaching is not about lightbulb moments and whole-class triumph: it’s about chasing homework, swearing at jammed photocopiers and reminding children old enough to know better that proper nouns always need a capital letter.

It’s also about endless behaviour management. With the honeymoon weeks of the autumn term behind us, a few children have decided to take behaviour on a nosedive and pulling it back up again is proving no mean task. It involves a relentless enforcing of standards: the teacher voice, the hard stare, the disappointed look. It is dealing with the so-called “low-level” stuff that can bring a successful lesson to its knees.

No reputation

I’d forgotten how exhausting managing a new class can be. It probably doesn’t help that I’m the new teacher with no reputation to precede me, but it’s also made harder by the lack of support staff. For the first time ever, I have a full class and no teaching assistant - the funding cuts are real. I know that in the past, teachers regularly delivered Latin grammar to a class of 52 without so much as an overhead projector, let alone another adult in the room, but I am clearly not one of these hardy souls. If someone gets a nosebleed, bursts into tears, can’t stop fidgeting, needs division re-explaining or an exercise book from the cupboard down the stairs, it’s all down to me to sort it. I can’t nip into the hall two minutes early to set up my assembly - and all of the photocopying, displays, group work and letters home is purely down to me.

This wouldn’t be such a problem for a teacher who was halfway competent at admin, but, sadly, I am not this teacher. This week alone I have upended an entire mug of tea over my desk, destroyed the laminator by forgetting to use that cardboard folder thing and required special one-to-one tuition from the secretary on how to fill in the dinner register.

I’m clearly on a learning curve, but I don’t have time for learning curves right now. I have things I need to teach. I need to smooth the bumps in the road so I can crack on with shaping young hearts and minds. I’ve already made a start - I’ve bought a new mug for my tea. With a lid.

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym of a primary school teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse

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