Control in the balance

HOW DO you help a teacher having a personal meltdown in the classroom to regain their dignity?

It is never easy to support staff who have lost control of themselves and their classroom without seeming to undermine them. But senior managers sometimes have to deal with these cases. The teacher is at their wits' end with pupils' behaviour and the disorder has taken them to dangerous levels of anger and despair.

When you arrive in such situations, the teacher is often found struggling against the whole class, rather than one or two pupils. The situation may have been of their own making, but your duty is to help them regain as much control as possible to get the lesson back on track. This has to be done without completely undermining their authority, in order to establish your own. The more disorder there is, the harder it is to stick to this advice.

But the following strategies are worth considering.

There are some quiet ways to help your colleague. Stand beside or slightly behind the teacher, saying nothing, while they call the class to attention.

This helps to back them up without taking the main authority away from them.

Alternatively, walk around the room in a low-key manner, telling individual pupils to be quiet and look towards the teacher. This will help your colleague to gain control without undermining them.

There are also some dramatic techniques to offer support. Pick on the worst-behaved pupils and take them out of the room with a flourish. This may give the teacher a chance to restore order.

If the disorder looks too serious for the teacher to regain control on their own, you may need to stand centre-stage yourself and wait for the class to be quiet. At that point, it is important to think of an intervention that will support rather than undermine the teacher.

I have two strategies that work well. The first is to ask the teacher to give me a list of names of the pupils who are good for the rest of the lesson. The second is a variant: I ask the teacher to give the class a mark out of 10 at the dismal moment I arrived in the noisy room. Then I inform the class that I will return just before the end of the lesson and hope the teacher can give a mark closer to 10 out of 10. Both these strategies help the teacher to build up a positive momentum again. Once a short intervention is made, it is important to leave the teacher to it, rather than hang around and wait for another deterioration in the lesson.

Sensible teachers take the help you have offered them and make a real go of restoring order. A few will get back into silly confrontation, from which it is almost impossible for you to help them again, other than to keep your promise to pop back in again before the end of the lesson.

Paul Blum is deputy head of a London school and author of Surviving and Succeeding in Senior School Management (RoutledgeFalmer, 2006)


Try to intervene in ways that support rather than undermine your teacher.

Make your intervention short and remind the class that you will be coming back to see if they have improved their behaviour.

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