The oldest tip in teaching (first uttered by Ug senior to Ug junior in the Stone Age) is "Start strictly, you can ease off later", also known as the "Don't smile till Christmas" strategy. Research I have conducted in primary and secondary schools shows, however, that teachers can be relaxed and use humour from the beginning so, like many tips, it works for some and not for others.
Our studies showed that most classroom misbehaviour is low grade, an irritating breach of simple everyday classroom rules: noisy and irrelevant chatter, distracting others, moving without permission. Violence and vandalism, though much more frightening, are less frequent.
You can turn the class around, but it will take a lot of effort from you and even more from the pupils. Your first responsibility is to ensure activities are interesting and challenging. Next, analyse what types of activity cause most problems.
Discuss with children what they can do to improve their own individual and collective behaviour. If the rules do not seem clear, write them down, explaining if necessary. Then be absolutely consistent. There is no point in saying children must raise a hand to speak, or must listen to others, and then ignoring infractions.
Give individual children responsibilities (which you can rotate) within the class: setting up and clearing away, checking there is paper in the printers, collecting and distributing (in an orderly, not unruly manner).
If all that fails, go berserk.
Don't play Jekyll and Hyde
Most of us have at some time been "too nice" to pupils, only to regret it later. But you cannot simply reprogramme yourself or your pupils at a stroke. Changing from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde will simply confuse them.
You are honest enough to admit that you had a part to play in this problem.
This is the first step on the road to improvement, and one that some never get as far as taking.
It might be that the children genuinely like you, and are not aware that they are undermining you. Let them know that you view things as unacceptable, and that you expect improvements. Consider target-setting, and bounce a few ideas off a more experienced colleague.
The second half of the year could be a bit of a trial. But the lessons learned cannot help but stand you in good stead for the next year - and many more successful ones after that.
Sheila Mazzotti, Worthing
My class ethos is all about choices, and the positive and negative consequences for each decision the pupils make. At the start of each day, I split the whiteboard into two, and head each column "positive" and "negative", and put each child's name on the positive side. They each then have three warnings. The first warning means the child has to move their name to the negative side, the second they put a cross next to their name, and the third means they go for a "time out".
Anyone's name can be restored to the positive side during the day, in recognition of a change in behaviour, and all names have a fresh start the next day. It has worked so well, that I have not given any time outs this term.
Lottie Wilkinson, Birmingham
Revise and display class rules
Try revisiting the original class rules. If they are not working, it may just be the way they are written, in the negative "Do not break the pencils and rulers" rather than "We will look after our school's equipment".
There should only be about four or five rules, covering respect (listening to others) helping one another, care of equipment and whatever else is suitable for the age range or the behaviour you are trying to change.
Display the rules attractively (the children can do this) near your main speaking area so that you can refer to them and they are in every child's line of vision.
Linda Ward, Dagenham